NEWTON, Iowa – Could Newgarden the newcomer help vaunted Team Penske finally find victory lane at Iowa Speedway? Tune in to today’s Iowa Corn 300 to find out.
Coming in as the defending race champion, which saw him lead a record 282 laps while driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, Josef Newgarden’s view will be different as the newest and youngest driver of Team Penske’s powerful foursome.
Still, Roger Penske’s outfit has not won in the previous 10 Verizon IndyCar Series races on the 0.894-mile oval. The 26-year-old Tennessean believes the merger of his experience and Team Penske’s resources could help resolve that this afternoon.
“I feel confident putting both philosophies together is going to work out for us,” Newgarden said.
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His former ride, the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, has seen its pace continue with JR Hildebrand qualifying on the outside of the front row Saturday. It’s the same spot Newgarden qualified the car a year ago before dominating the race.
Now driving the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet for Team Penske, Newgarden qualified a disappointing 16th with a two-lap average of 180.343 mph, in part because he was one of the first to make an attempt. Heading into today’s 300-lap race, Team Penske’s newest member doesn’t see a huge difference in the preparation between the teams.
“It’s similar in a lot of respects, not super different,” Newgarden said. “I think the difference is just being with a different group with a lot of different people. As far as the at-track feeling of being at Iowa, a lot of it feels the same.
“I’m excited to run the race. It’s always a good one. We didn’t maximize qualifying here, but that happens. Sometimes you guess wrong and we guessed wrong.”
Despite his runaway victory at Iowa last year, Newgarden hasn’t seen the team rushing to him for new information or “winning secrets.” Team Penske has, after all, had three drivers finish second at Iowa, including Will Power – the pole sitter for today’s race – in 2016.
“I think it's kind of a collaboration,” said Newgarden, who gained his fourth career win and first with Team Penske at Barber Motorsports Park in April. “I think Penske was really strong last year. It's not like they didn't have good cars.
“We all have an understanding of what we want from a feel out of the car – every driver, all four of us. I tried to put my interpretation on what I like about the car and what I've experienced in the past and what I've learned over the last couple years here. I think we take the good from each side and try and make it better, and hopefully that's going to make me strong in the (No.) 2 car and hopefully it's going to help all of us as a team just be better from last year.
“If that's the case, I think we should be set pretty well.”
Simon Pagenaud, one of Newgarden’s new teammates along with Power and Helio Castroneves, believes Newgarden has not just brought something new to Team Penske, but has the look of a future champion as well.
“It’s fresh blood and new thinking as well from different places as well,” said Pagenaud, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion who joined Team Penske in 2015 after three seasons with what was then called Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.
“It’s the same as when I came from Schmidt,” added Pagenaud. “You have your own experience, then you bring in a new perspective. It’s fresh blood. I enjoy it very much and I find it always interesting to get an interaction going within our group of four (drivers).
“I think he’s a tremendous racer. You put him on a street course, road course, oval … he’s a future champion, no question about it. What’s really cool to see is how young he is and how dedicated he is to this sport.”
Live coverage of the Iowa Corn 300 begins at 5 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon takes a 34-point championship lead over Pagenaud into the race.
Iowa Corn 300 fast facts:
Race 11 of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule
Track: Iowa Speedway, a 0.894-mile oval in Newton, Iowa; this year marks the 11th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series is hosting a race on the track
Race distance: 300 laps / 268.2 miles
Fuel: 95 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol
Fuel stint: 60-70 laps
TV: NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, starting at 5 p.m. ET
Green flag: 5:44 p.m. ET