By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — First impressions are critical, and even more so for a top-tier employer. For Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 2 Verizon Wireless Chevrolet for Team Penske is about as top-tier as you can get in the Verizon IndyCar Series and by earning an eighth-place finish in the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the impression was a good one.
Newgarden was caught out on bad strategy after not making his first pit stop before the caution flag came out on Lap 26. Once Newgarden made his stop, he was back in 13th place on the restart and his race had to be run differently.
“We just got dealt a bad hand today,” Newgarden said. “I think we were a podium car if the race didn’t have the caution in the first stint and we didn’t get cycled to the back. I think we managed the situation as best as we could.
“I could’ve done a little better job on in and out laps for the team but I think overall with where that first yellow put us in the back, I think we recovered as best we could. We just got dealt a bad hand. The best guy that dealt with that was Scott [Dixon] and Scott fought back to third. So I think for us, if we could’ve fought back to a top five we would’ve been happier.
“I’m not displeased with where we were, I think we maximized what we could for getting just dealt a bad hand today.”
Some drivers might let the pressure of driving for a major team, like Penske, affect their performance, but not in Newgarden’s case.
“I think I ran a race just like I would last year, so I didn’t feel any different being with this group, it just wasn’t a good day for the pit cycles,” Newgarden added. “I’ve been on the good end of that where you’re a guy like Bourdais and you receive the good side of it. Today was a day where we received the bad side of it.
“It comes and goes, you’re going to get both ends of it. Today we didn’t get the good end. It’s a good race for us, again it’s not what we wanted, but it’s a solid top 10.
“We can build on it, take an eighth and be better in the next weekend.”