Josef Newgarden wasn't nervous with three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and a hard-charging Graham Rahal within striking distance in the closing laps of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The 24-year-old Tennessee native held off both competitors and pulled away for his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory in his 55th start.
Newgarden, driving the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet, is the fourth different winner in as many races this season. This was the first victory since the merger of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and the team's sixth win overall.
"This is the way I wanted to do it. I didn't want to win on some crazy incident, or on luck," Newgarden said. "This team deserves it. They gave me an incredible car and let me get out there and rip with the thing and pass people on pure merit. And that's due to CFH Racing - they were just incredible today. We're going up against the giants, but I think this team can be a giant one day."
Rahal, who charged from fifth in the final 10 laps on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course, overtook Dixon on the final lap to claim his first podium finish since Belle Isle 1 last May. Rahal, driving the No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, finished 2.2061 seconds behind Newgarden.
"The Honda did a great job for me today," Rahal said. "I passed a lot of guys and I hope everyone enjoyed the race because we were pushing to the last seconds. A few more laps and I think we would have had (Newgarden)."
Dixon, who won a week earlier on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., finished third in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He has finished on the podium in all six races at Barber Motorsports Park (four second-place finishes and third in each of the past two seasons).
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, who won at Barber in 2011 and 2012, placed fourth in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the past two races at Barber, finished fifth in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.
Helio Castroneves was running fourth in the final laps but had to pit with one lap remaining for a splash of fuel. The unplanned stop dropped the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner to 15th place in the waning laps - one position behind Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who maintained the series championship lead by three points over Castroneves heading to the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 9.
Newgarden, who started a season-high fifth, had a previous best finish of second (Baltimore 2013 and Iowa 2014). He placed eighth after starting fourth at Barber Motorsports Park last year. He led a field-high 46 laps - more than double his previous career total.
Auburn Football Coach Impressed in First Visit to Race
Gus Malzahn has coached some great athletes on the gridiron, but the Auburn University football coach had a newfound appreciation for the conditioning of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers after visiting the KV Racing Technology compound before today's race. Malzahn was a guest of Raymond Harbert, chairman and CEO of the Harbert Management Company that is an associate sponsor this weekend on the No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet driven by Stefano Coletti.
"I enjoy Indy car racing and this will be my first experience seeing it first-hand," Malzahn said as he took his first close-up look at the KV cars. "The fact that it worked out, I was in town already with Mr. Harbert and Charlie Miller (Harbert's executive vice president and global head of distribution). It's great to be here. I'm just learning about it behind the scenes."
Malzahn, who guided Auburn to the national championship game in his first year at the helm in 2013, planned to be an interested spectator in Coletti's pit during the race. He was impressed with the preparations drivers must undertake to stand up to the rigors of Verizon Indy Car Series racing.
"It's real interesting to me about the drivers, how much they have to work out and how fit they've got to be," Malzahn said. "I just got through talking to (Coletti) and he was talking about his workout routine. A lot of people probably don't know that, but working out two hours a day and the mental and physical awareness you have to have to do this is really unbelievable."
'It Feels Good' for Country Singer to See Race
Drake White's current country music hit is "It Feels Good," which described well the local native's first visit to a Verizon IndyCar Series race. White sang the national anthem before today's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
"It does feel good," White said when asked to sum up his excitement. "Because I say it all the time, I try not to make the pun, but it does feel good out here, man."
White, from Gadsden, Ala., felt even better seeing his name decaled on the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet driven by Sage Karam. White is signed to Dot Records, a Big Machine subsidiary, and said he draws motivation from the progress of Karam, who at 20 is the youngest driver in the field.
"To come out here and see my name and my hard work paying off from a music standpoint, and being plastered on the back of a car, is pretty awesome," White said. "(Karam) being a young guy and being able to come out here and do what he's been able to do is just a testament to his dedication and his talent.
"I love the aspect of maybe telling somebody to follow the dream or push forward or go for it. Just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean that it can't be done. He's really inspired me to go out and push my boundaries musically."
Brian Campe, race engineer for Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 2 Hawk Performance Team Penske Chevrolet, grew up in Huntsville, Ala., where his father was a NASA employee. Montoya won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29 and led the point standings heading into the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. "We finished the 2014 season on a high note and we have carried that momentum through the offseason and into the start of 2015," Campe said. "We found out where our weaknesses were and we attacked those, which were the street courses and road courses, and we've been strong in those areas so far."... Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing) made it a sweep in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, winning the weekend doubleheader nightcap today by 5.9781 seconds over Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agjanian). Pigot took over the championship lead by seven points over Ed Jones (Carlin).... In the second Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend, Neil Alberico (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) inherited the lead and drove to victory after pole sitter Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport) was penalized and moved to the rear of the field for blocking at the start. It was the third win in five races this season for Alberico, who holds an eight-point lead in the standings over Santiago Urrutia (Team Pelfrey).
POST-RACE DRIVER QUOTES
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet, race winner): "This is the way I wanted to do it. I didn't want to win on some crazy incident or on luck. This team deserves it. They gave me an incredible car and let me get out there and rip with the thing and pass people on pure merit. And that's due to CFH Racing - they were just incredible today. We're going up against the giants, but I think this team can be a giant one day. We've got great partners in Chevrolet and Firestone - they deserve it and today they made it easy on me. Today was a good day and we need to have more of these."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda, second place): "I'm really proud of these Steak 'n Shake guys. They've worked extremely hard and today I drove that race 110 percent, every single lap. We knew when we made the strategy call to stay out (that) we had to go fast in order to make up the gap. I've got to say Honda did a great job for me today. It's still tough to follow, but obviously I passed a lot of guys. This team has come a long way and I think we have proven that. Eventually one of these days we'll win one of these things. I hope everybody enjoyed the race because we were pushing there until the last second. It was great racing with Ryan (Hunter-Reay), Will (Power) and (Scott) Dixon - he gave me room there in those last couple turns. That's pretty nice of him; not a lot of guys do that."... (On if he had a chance to win): "(Jack) Hawksworth got out of the pits in front of me and that held me up and we lost a few seconds right there, so we had to pit a little earlier than we wanted to. A couple laps
earlier, we would have gotten him I think."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Coke/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, third place): "It was definitely a tough day. It started horribly, we kind of got pushed around there at the start and just didn't get a clean line there. We dropped like a rock - we bled the rear tires off on the first set and I think we were the first to stop in that situation. It kind of altered the day and how we could kind of deal with tires and fuel and all that kind of stuff. We knew the alternate strategy was going to come late and it came strong. All in all, congratulations to Josef (Newgarden) - he's a hell of a driver, with a small team, and for them to get a victory is really cool to see."
WILL POWER (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, fourth place): "Very eventful. A fun race that you like if you end up in a good position. Man, I didn't even see what happened when I got put in the gravel there (the incident with Sato). But I did everything I could to get back and got back to fourth, so it's a good result considering. After (the incident) I was just focusing on doing a good job, saving fuel and passing when we could. Did everything we could, got back. I didn't even see what happened on that penalty because I just felt a hit from behind. I thought I was clear. I looked in the mirror, it was hard to see, but that's racing."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda, fifth place): "I think that was as good as we were going to get today. We really worked hard on saving fuel. We had to have a lot of discipline to pull that off. Some guys pitted a little later than us and they were able to go a little heavier, a little harder (at the end), so we missed out on the podium because of that. All in all a good day. Progress. We had to save a lot of fuel today. One of the worst things in an Indy car is having to save fuel while guys behind you are on good tires and don't have to save any (fuel), like Graham (Rahal)."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, series points leader): "We had a long day with the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevy. We started with a bad qualifying effort, but we seemed to be in an OK position to dig ourselves out of the hole at one point. We were racing with (Ryan) Hunter-Reay and he finished fifth. It's hard to race with some of the guys in the back of the pack. They are young and sometimes make moves like you aren't even there when you are right beside them. So we ended up with two broken wings and a 14th-place finish."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet): "Not the finish we hoped for the AAA Insurance Chevrolet. There was just a bit of miscommunication on our fuel number that, unfortunately, caused us to have to pit with one lap left. You never want to see the white flag on pit road. We were on the same strategy with (Josef) Newgarden and (Scott) Dixon, but we were needing to meet a different fuel number than they were and I didn't understand that. So I was trying to balance making the number we had to meet with not giving up a position to Dixon, who was behind me. Unfortunately that caused us to come up short. I hate it because the AAA guys gave me another car that could've easily won the race, but it was a crazy race out there today."
STEFANO COLETTI (No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "We were off to a great start with a great strategy. We pitted and then after that we were running 10th and the car felt great and we were up there. However, when we pitted, an accident just happened and Race Control apparently thought that I came in when the yellow was out, which I really don't think is the case. We need to get that clarified because they sent me to the back of the field and my race went downhill from there. I tried to pass (James) Jakes and we both made contact and spun, and then I got a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact and after that it was really over for me. I feel bad for my team because they have been working so hard to give me such a fast race car, but we seem to be getting the worst luck and hopefully that changes soon."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda): "The race was pretty good for the Arrow Electronics team. We were able to pick up a couple of spots, obviously. The pace of the car was really good and I think the guys called the right strategy for where we started. We were missing in one area: We just didn't quite have it on the brakes today, unfortunately. That allowed Graham (Rahal) to stay in front of us while he was on blacks (primary tires) there and it really got us stuck behind those Coyne cars for way too long. You look at where Graham finished and we were right with him there. Obviously we missed a bit but strategy was good, car was good and like I said, if we'd of just had a little bit more on the brakes, I think we could've made some good headway. We stayed out of trouble, had a good points day and we'll take it. We get faster and faster, more and more competitive in these races and that's what we need to see. A big thanks to all the Arrow crew guys for a solid weekend and we look forward to the GP of Indy now."
JAMES JAKES (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "It was a disappointing day for the No. 7 MediaTech Honda with UMP and HelpForScoliosis.com. We just had an error in the pits and then we got turned around, actually when we were on the lead lap. It's disappointing but we'll take credits from this weekend and move on to the Indy grand prix. Obviously, the No. 5 car got some more points for the team, which is good, and we'll try to do the same next week."
SAGE KARAM (No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet): "Another rough day for the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet. We started out well on that first lap and actually moved up a position fighting for a spot in the top 10, but then the setup just went kind of loose. We came in and looked at what was going in and it looks like one of my rear springs actually broke. There's nothing we can do about that, but it's still a shame because I think we had a good car all weekend."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "It was a tough day for NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing. We really had a roller coaster of a race weekend with a bad practice to start and then a solid qualifying effort. It just kind of went downhill even from the first lap when I got caught between some cars and dropped a few spots. It was just a hard day for the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet, with struggling to maintain tires and get back to the front of the pack. I'm happy for Scott (Dixon) for scoring another podium, but the 10 car definitely needs to get back up to the front."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Mistic E-Cigs-KVSH Chevrolet): "We had a great day. The Mistic machine was awesome. It's just Race Control ruined it for us. You can't leave two drivers stranded out there because they did a great job. Simon (Pagenaud) and I were managing our tires better than most people, we were first and second and we were going to come into the pits a few laps later and they called a caution for debris. They should have let us know they were going to call a caution and given us a chance to pit. They didn't do that and it ruined our day. After that, it was recovery mode. Thankfully, we had a great car and we beat all the guys we were competing against... some guys in front of us and the guys who were on the same strategy. But you can't overcome being dropped to the back of the pack like that. That was a shame because it should have been a very different day. The Mistic crew did a great job and we will keep trying, but for sure it is very frustrating."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): "It was good to finish the race under the very tough and difficult circumstances. At the start of the race we gained a couple positions and we were working through our strategy when the yellow came out and we tried to take advantage of it, so we pitted. I think the decision was OK as there were a couple other good cars on the same strategy. We used red (alternate) tires in two stints, but one stint was really long and later in that stint we were struggling to keep pace quite a lot. Now you can say we should have come in, change tires, get a splash of fuel, etc., but at that time it was a difficult decision. We were losing a lot of positions, but the team decided at the time to stay out so I would only have one more pit stop. It was a tough day. And I had the collision with Will (Power), which looked like he didn't see me when I was already committed into the turn. He just came out of the pit and we were side by side and I tried to avoid him, but it was not possible. He is the last guy I would want to hit out there. It was a tough day but we learned something for both cars and hopefully we can put it to good use for the Indy grand prix."
RODOLFO GONZALEZ (No. 18 Dale Coyne Honda): "We were really competitive and it is a bit misleading to see a 20th-place finish because we had made up some really good ground during the race. I had a lot of interesting battles with some big names in the series, so that was good. We finished quite a few places below where we were running a lot of the day because we took a little gamble on fuel at the end and didn't have enough to make it to the end. We were still running pretty good even though I was saving fuel and then I had to save even more, which was difficult. We ran as high as 10th and were running P15 at the time. I had some good battles with (Juan Pablo) Montoya and (Takuma) Sato, who are very good drivers. Two laps from the end, we didn't quite make the fuel numbers and it was disappointing I had to come in and finish 20th. In the end, it was good experience and in the future I just have to be more cautious of the way I save fuel."
FRANCESCO DRACONE (No. 19 Dale Coyne Honda): "This felt like a never-ending race because of all of the track action and how physical it was out there. I was a little disappointed in my performance during some phases of the race, but there were others where I gave some guys a good battle when I was in the middle of the pack. I got my lap back and was slightly off strategy, so I was fighting for position for a while with some fast guys. During the last stint someone came into my rear tire and we had to do an extra pit stop. I didn't have any more (alternate) red tires left so we had to go to black and I ended up last because of this. I think I would have finished 21st or something without that puncture. The strategy was really good and I was running in clean air, but someone hit my tire and that was it."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet): "We had plenty of pace in the Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet. Plenty. Plenty. We would have challenged for the win. In the first stint when we got by Will (Power), we were looking really strong coming up on Helio (Castroneves) and (Josef) Newgarden. It was a little bit of a shame. We just got unlucky with the yellow there. From then on we had to be really aggressive and attack and pass people, which we did. That was fun from that part; I'm happy with my driving. But I feel like we had a much better car than the result we actually had, but there are always some outside factors you can't control. Congratulations to Newgarden on his first win. He deserves it. He has been knocking on the door for a long time. I'm really happy for him."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda): "I think sixth for me is like a victory today. I mean, I always want to win, but this sixth feels so good because of how we started the weekend. Starting 22nd at Barber (Motorsports Park), it is really hard to make your way to the front. My team did a great job - in pit stops, in strategy. I think I did a great job at saving fuel; I'm more or less a rookie at saving fuel, but I think now I have my 'saving fuel degree' from university (laughs). Now I'm looking forward to the next one."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): "I lost too much time early in the stint to (Scott) Dixon and Ryan (Hunter-Reay). I had a go at Dixon... I got pushed off the track, so we lost a lot of track position. I lost a lot of time, really, in that stint trying to conserve (fuel). I need to get better at managing, but we were losing the rear tires, so it was a real struggle."
JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): "I didn't get a great start off the line, got caught in it in the first corner, but got my rhythm in the first stint and picked off a few cars. Then we pitted and had a good second stint and were running with (Simon) Pagenaud and (Tony) Kanaan. Then on the restart, I passed Pagenaud but couldn't stop the car on the exit and I ended up losing that spot. Then we settled into a rhythm and were doing OK, but we died there on the reds (alternate tires) at the end and should have pitted a lap earlier. When we did pit we had an issue and we lost a lot of time in the pits, so then it was day done. We just had to bring the car home. It's disappointing really because we could have gotten a top 10 or 11 out of it. So a bit disappointed."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "It was kind of a frustrating race with some of the calls that were made and I think they're worth investigating further. Overall, the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew just never stopped fighting. We had really good pit stops. We did get caught out with that first yellow and had to go with an alternate strategy, but we were quick when we needed to be. I mean to be knocking on the door of a top-10 finish after our strategy went completely wrong is a pretty good result for the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet. I'm looking forward to the Indy road course and the entire month of May. I feel like we made a big step as a team this weekend and hopefully we can keep that up in a few weekends at the GP of Indianapolis."
GABBY CHAVES (No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda): "We ended up with the right strategy to take us to a possible top-eight finish. One of our stints on the (alternate) red tires, we just couldn't hang on to the handling. About four or five laps in, and it just took us off the pace. I'm very happy we again showed our strength in race trim and had strong stops by the BHA guys."