INDYCAR celebrates the 12 days of Christmas with 12 of the most memorable storylines from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, starting with Josef Newgarden who, one could argue, received one of the greatest gifts of the year at the Iowa Corn 300 presented by DeKalb in July.
Starting 21st in a field of 22 cars, Newgarden had 300 hectic laps to move the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda through the field, the soon-to-be 24-year-old carved his way to 10th by Lap 281. With a caution period falling on Lap 282 and the checkered flag nearly in sight, Newgarden’s team was one of a few to gamble and pit for new tires.
The immediate penalty was clear as those cars dropped to the back of the field, but with the rest of the runners on high mileage Firestones, Newgarden was among the precious few who had ample grip to leapfrog his way forward.
As fans in the grandstands and those at home witnessed during the broadcast, the sprint by those on fresh tires once the green flag waved was simply unforgettable.
“It ended up being an amazing race for us,” Newgarden said. “We were not the class of the field that day. I think we were a solid top-10 car after missing it in qualifying. We were there to put a decent day together but nothing glamorous. It ended up turning into a really stellar result from where we were starting.”
Rolling the dice on Lap 282 will go down as one of his favorite strategy calls made by the talented SFHR team.
“It went down to the wire at the end in making the decision to go on new tires, which was brilliantly called by my team,” he added. “We had discussed it beforehand. We noticed in practice that the tires were degrading at a certain rate and if that scenario came up in the race where there was 15 or 20 laps to go, and you’re sitting right in the mid-pack, would we take tires or do you not take tires? We did discuss it and we did see that possibly taking tires could be a huge benefit if you’re right on the cusp of the top-10.
“That’s what we did, along with (eventual race winner) Ryan Hunter-Reay and a couple of other guys behind us. If we were just one spot up we might’ve had another shot of trying to pull it away from Hunter Ray too. I restarted 11th and he was ninth. He was two spots up on me. It was pretty much lead-follow once we started.
“He and I seemed to have the best rhythm with the new tires. He was great at cutting through the pack. I just mirrored him on some lines and also did the complete opposite of him; he would go low and I would go high on someone and we just would split them. It was crazy how we could carve up the field for the final 10, 12 laps and just shoot to the front. It obviously worked out very well for him and we were not too far behind.”
For Newgarden, blitzing his way to second place also matched a career best. Faced with the same opportunity, he’d obviously stop for tires, but it’s likely the rest of the field would also pay a visit to the pits after seeing what he and RHR were able to do at Iowa.
“It was just a really fun deal to be in that situation,” he said. “I think you can get into that situation nowadays with IndyCar, with the way that they work and the way the aero configurations are and the way the tires work, because I had a similar thing happen in Milwaukee, too, later in the year. I think that it’s cool that you can have things like that happen today. It is a very fun experience for a driver.
“Hopefully, we start from pole next year and we just run away with the thing. That would be ideal. If we find ourselves in the situation again, I think a lot more people will be wise to jump on that opportunity. But you may never again; you may never get that opportunity again in your career. It just doesn’t happen like that where you pull a big one over on everyone. It’s still pretty amazing to think it happened.”