Newgarden still needs “perfect days” to win third championship

Despite a brilliant third win of the season in the first of the two Harvest GP races, Josef Newgarden says mediocrity is still not an option if he’s to beat Scott Dixon to the title.

With Team Penske-Chevrolet’s reigning champion winning on a day when Chip Ganassi Racing’s five-time champ could only salvage ninth, the gap between them shrank from 72 points to 40.

However, with two rounds to go and the finale no longer being worth double points, Newgarden acknowledges he has an uphill battle to retain his crown, so his approach will remain the same.

“It's no different,” he said, “You try to maximize every day. Without a doubt, we still have to have perfect days for the next two races. We have to. We can't afford to have a bad day tomorrow, we can't afford to have a bad day in St. Pete.

“I don't think we're going for mediocrity. We never do. It's not like that's going to be a different approach. We're always going to maximize our performance. The only difference is that we don't have any room to be mediocre.

“On days where you have a fourth- or fifth-place car, you still work your butt off to finish with what the car and the team is capable of. The only difference is we have to make sure we're a winning car every day. We can't afford to not be a winning car.

“We just do not have the room to slip up. If we had any luck for the year, it's certainly been used up by this point.”

Reflecting on his 17th IndyCar win, and his third of the season, Newgarden said key to the triumph was having a car that was strong on both of Firestone’s compounds – the harder primaries, and the red-sidewalled softer alternates.

“I would say that was our strength today,” he said. “We were probably the most even across the sets. Honestly, we didn't make a change today, which is very abnormal for us. We typically make changes across the two tire compounds [but] we didn't touch the car all day. It was very balanced,

“Looked like [Alexander] Rossi was very good on the primary tires, not so good on the alternates. Colton [Herta] definitely looked a little bit better on the primaries at times versus the alternates. Rinus [VeeKay, polesitter and third-place finisher], I didn't see as much. He kind of caught traffic when I was catching up to him. I didn't get a good look at where he was strong.

“I do think because you only have two sets of reds, they're a pretty strong tire and that divides the stints pretty evenly. You can swing that to stretching the reds a little bit more in a race. It does put an emphasis on being good across the board.

Newgarden still had 45sec of the allotted 200sec of push-to-pass turbo boost at the end of the race, whereas most of his principal rivals were low or completely out. However, in the first stint, he was using the extra boost – which raises the turbo pressure from 150kPa to 165kPa in a maximum of 20sec bursts – as liberally as anyone else.

Asked if this was a reflection on the fact that 85 laps was an ‘easy’ three-stop race so there were no fuel-saving worries, Newgarden said: “Honestly, I think I was a little bit too antsy racing with Colton in the beginning. His pace caught me by surprise to start the race. I was shocked at how quick he was for that first 10 laps [Herta ran primary tires in the opening stint].

“Rinus got by him really quickly, did a great job clearing him. I figured I would kind of follow through and do the same. Once we got a couple laps, heat in the tires, I just seemed to struggle to attack him as effectively. I just burned through a lot more [P2P] than I probably normally would.

“But I think, yeah, we were more liberal and less worried because it wasn't a fuel day. We knew it was kind of a flat-out race. In our case, we knew we needed to get by Colton to go fast. We were doing everything possible to get in that position.

“We went into that final stint of the race with less than we normally would have. I had about 50 seconds going into that final pit stop, which is a little shy of where you want to be. When I came out of that final pit stop, my positioning was so superior. I had two or three lapped cars between me and Colton at that point, about a three-second lead.

“There was absolutely no reason for me to use it. I was never threatened at the end so I didn't have to use it. What we were trying to save for was a caution. If a caution comes out, I want to be in the dominant position with 'push to pass'. Fortunately we didn't have to get into a dogfight like that, but we wanted to be prepared for it if need be.”

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