By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
For the second straight day, Team Penske left the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix heartbroken. Yesterday it was Will Power’s car not firing up after the red flag was lifted. Today, it was Josef Newgarden’s rear tire wear playing a role on finishing second after leading the first 67 laps.
“Sad. Just pretty sad,” said Newgarden. “It’s hard not to be disappointed. We had the car to beat, but the cautions (came out) when we didn’t need them. Wrong tires when we didn’t need them.”
Right out of the gate, Newgarden led the 25-car field to the green flag which was quickly slowed down on Lap 1. That’s because of Max Chilton running into the back of James Hinchcliffe in Turn 3.
As a result, the tough decision on whether or not to pit created a series of challenges. That’s because all drivers must run both the primary (black) and alternate (red) Firestone tires at least once during the race. This would come to define Newgarden’s afternoon.
“We had to pick because we weren’t sure if they were going to go full course caution. If we don’t pick, we get completely hosed,” Newgarden explained.
“We had to put an extra 8-10 laps tires and we didn’t want to. It would’ve been a lot easier if we could’ve kept it cleaner. That was our plan, but it didn’t work our way.”
Fast forward to the final pit stop on Lap 47, Newgarden ran the primaries all race long. Thus, he must go for reds and find a way to save his tires and that’s no easy task. Those reds he used were from his pole qualifying run Sunday morning.
Once Newgarden pitted, he held onto the race lead. However, Colton Herta made sure he was going to make him earn that win. It looked promising until two late-race cautions gave the competition a chance.
The first one being for a Turn 1 spin by Jimmie Johnson on Lap 54. When the race resumed with 12 to go, Newgarden had a solid restart over Herta, but the green flag wouldn’t last as Romain Grosjean’s woeful weekend ended with both front brakes on fire.
Five laps later, Newgarden had another superb restart and pulled away from Herta. However, another man entered the chat. That guy being the ever determined Pato O’Ward, who started 16th and passed Herta with six to go.
Newgarden’s rear tires were already shot and tried hanging on for dear life. With three laps left, the rear of his No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet wasn’t happy and got sideways.
Fortunately, he kept it off the Turn 6 wall, but the wobble was all O’Ward needed to go low. Despite making contact, O’Ward took the lead from Newgarden. Game over.
“Pato was coming like a freight train,” Newgarden on the only lead change. “What are you going to do? I just couldn’t do anything.”
O’Ward quickly pulled away as Newgarden struggled hanging on to second, barely beating Alex Palou and Herta at the line.
“Alex was right behind me and about to pass me too,” Newgarden on the final lap. “I was just trying to hold onto him. I had so much wheel spin. My rear tires were shot to death the last 10 laps. Just trying to be aggressive. The restarts didn’t help me. None of it played in our favor.”
If it wasn’t obvious, a third runner-up finish this season left him sad in his own words.
“It was a fun strategy. I think we were doing well, just the caution that killed us,” said Newgarden. “My rears were shot and we didn’t need that. It is what it is, but we tried. I don’t want to second guess it too much, but it didn’t fall our way at the end. So, it’s pretty sad.”
Newgarden will head to Road America fourth in the championship standings, trailing O’Ward by 51 points. Live coverage begins Sunday, June 20 at Noon ET on NBCSN.