Josef Newgarden came just shy of making it four pole wins at Road America.
The No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet turned a 1m44.9371s lap around the 4.048-mile road course, nearly turning his fourth Fast Six appearance of the season into pole. Instead, he was left settling for second.
The 31-year-old Tennessee native was eighth quickest on Friday’s extended practice, with the lap laid down the slowest compared to his two teammates. In the Saturday morning session, Newgarden had improved pace and placed fifth, 0.3063s behind the fastest time.
With a lowest starting position of ninth on the road and street courses this season, Newgarden had no issue getting into the Fast 12 and was atop the drivers going into the Fast Six. Pole-sitter, Alexander Rossi completed a lap on the harder primary (black sidewall) tire, which confused the second-place starter at the end qualifying.
“It was unbelievable,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t even realize it was on blacks (Rossi’s lap). I looked like an idiot talking to Greg Gosselin from Team Chevy. I was like, clearly it was better to go use reds, we knew that. He didn’t say anything to me, someone else told me. He was like, I didn’t want to correct you. Wow, I feel, like, stupid.
“We were just a little short. I think Rossi’s lap is definitely an outlier. Must have been a mega lap. It looks like it. Kudos to these guys. I was pretty happy with my lap. It wasn’t like it was a bad lap. It just wasn’t enough. Wish we were one spot better, but we have all day to work on that now with PPG and Team Chevy.”
It was a decision that was divided by teams that were in position to earn the top spot. Along with Newgarden, Pato O’Ward elected to go with a used set of the softer tire (red sidewall) compound, while the other three went along with Rossi’s choice.
“I mean, I think outside Rossi, it clearly was a better choice for us,” he said. “I mean, if I was to do it again, I think I could have found a little bit of time in it. I didn’t do a bad lap. It was a good lap I did. But I think the evidence suggested to me that it wasn’t the same case as last year.
“Last year was a lot closer, between I thought, the reds and the blacks. The drop-off was maybe a little different on the reds. To me, I thought it was pretty clear that reds seemed better this year. Yeah, from yesterday, purely off the data, it seemed clear to me that they would be better. Obviously that wasn’t the case.”
Newgarden started on the front-row in last year’s race in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, which from pole (his third at the venue). He led 32 laps that day, but a restart with two to go, a presumed mechanical issue, plagued the dominance and left him with a 21st-place finish.
Similar to last week’s Detroit Grand Prix, the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion puts himself in a prime spot to win a race he nearly missed out on the year previous.
“I mean, I think it’s helpful here for sure,” Newgarden said. “You want to be up front. Ideally it’s a long track, it’s a lot of ground to make up. You get pretty spread out. When you start at the back, it puts you on even more of a back foot here versus a smaller track.
“Yeah, hopefully it’s good. The race is very different than qualifying. We’ll have to see how that works out. Tires, in my opinion, are quite different this year.”
For Newgarden, his only win at Road America came in 2018 when he led all but two laps. It may not be that simple of a race, indirectly implying anything can happen.
“It will be interesting to see some guys that didn’t transfer, like a Will Power, for instance, it will be interesting to see how they utilize their reds and things like that,” he added. “There’s no gimmes this day. I thought Detroit was going to be pretty straightforward last weekend and it was anything but that. Don’t hold your breath.”