NEWTON, Iowa – A return to his home state of Iowa, including a dominating victory by his driver, added up to another happy homecoming for Team Penske chief mechanic Travis Law.
When Josef Newgarden drove to a decisive victory in Race 2 of the Iowa INDYCAR 250s on Saturday night, July 18, it was the second year in a row that Law celebrated in Victory Lane at Iowa Speedway.
Law is from Maquoketa, Iowa, a 2-1/2-hour drive from the 7/8th-mile Iowa Speedway.
With Gavin Ward engineering the right setup and Law and his crew building the speedy No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden was never passed on the track the entire night. The only time he gave up the lead was during his three pit stops.
“He definitely made us look good tonight,” Law said from victory lane Saturday night. “We had a good car Friday and didn’t get to show it. We got to come back here tonight and prove it. That’s the nice thing about these doubleheaders; you can come back and forget about the day before.
“Josef makes this car look good, and he’s really good here.”
For the second year in a row, Newgarden did his part with another dominant victory at Iowa.
“Travis Law, he's an incredible chief mechanic,” Newgarden said. “We have great chief mechanics on our team across the board. Travis has done an amazing job for us.
“Just like last year how we got pretty excited to be able to have a fast car, same thing this year. Travis wants to make sure we do a great job. He does that everywhere. But everybody would feel it's a little more special in your home state.”
Team Penske’s sweep of the Iowa INDYCAR 250s at Iowa Speedway was a tale of two vastly different strategies.
Simon Pagenaud’s impressive “worst to first” performance Friday night featured a bold, two-stop strategy devised by engineer Ben Bretzman.
Those tactics worked perfectly when 26 laps of caution were run between Lap 144 to 169 for two separate incidents. Those included Will Power losing a wheel off his Chevrolet and hitting the Turn 4 wall on Lap 144. The other came on an aborted restart that resulted in Colton Herta’s Honda running into the back of rookie Rinus VeeKay’s Chevrolet, sending Herta into the air on a wild ride.
None of the drivers involved was injured, but the reduced speed was enough to allow Pagenaud to make it to the finish on his second tank of fuel instead of having to make a third pit stop.
By stark contrast, Newgarden’s victory Saturday night was rather simple – start on the pole, run away from the field, lead the most laps (214) and cruise to victory.
Ward and Law believed their driver had a superior car to the field. Newgarden went out and proved it in Saturday night’s race.
It was the fourth time in the last six races at Iowa Speedway that Newgarden led more than 200 laps in the contest.
“This is a venue where Josef is the best in the world and he knows what he wants,” Ward said after Saturday night’s win. “We’ve been lucky enough to have some pretty good cars here with him. It’s pretty rare. We knew we were going to be strong here and just wanted to capitalize, especially after Friday night.
“On Friday night, it was tricky trying to find our way on the two- versus three-stop (strategy), and the yellows didn’t help us. Tonight, we got it right.
“This is the way I’d like to do it every time.”
Newgarden and his team thought they had the best car in Friday’s race, but the same caution period that allowed Pagenaud’s strategy to work put Newgarden’s plans into reverse. Newgarden was very upset after his fifth-place finish and took it out on the field in Saturday night’s race.
“Josef was pretty ticked off Friday night, I’m not going to lie about it,” Ward said. “Josef is super competitive, and that is what you want. Here is a guy who qualified second and first and was ticked off about it. You want that from a driver.
“The thing about Josef is he gets ticked off, but when he comes to the next event, it is all gone. He switches it off and he goes. He bounces back.”
Saturday night’s race was straightforward in terms of strategy. It was also the fourth race in an eight-day stretch for INDYCAR and its teams.
“We feel a lot better than anybody else right now,” Law said. “After Friday night, we were a little wore out, long night, Will Power’s car had some trouble. The good thing now is we leave tonight, feeling pretty good about how we finished this stint.
“For us right now, it’s about today, tomorrow and we have to keep looking forward. We have another tough stint coming up with Mid-Ohio and the Indianapolis 500, so we have to stay ready every day.”