Photo: Chris Jones/INDYCAR

Newgarden Starts Title Defense with Pole at Texas Amid Compound Issues

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The bid of defending the No. 1 plate starts off right for Josef Newgarden, who set a two-lap average of 215.740 mph to claim pole position for tonight’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

As the last guy out for qualifying, Newgarden felt like his XPEL Chevrolet had the pace to be fastest as he took down five-time series NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, whose average speed was 215.638 mph. There was a bit of hesitation from Newgarden if he can fully execute the pole winning run.

“I don’t want to say I was surprised. I felt like the car was quick. I didn’t know if we had enough to beat Dixon,” said Newgarden. “He was really good in his qualifying trim. I felt the XPEL car was great, so I just tried to do as much as I could to stay flat. That’s really all I had to do was try to keep it pinned around the track.”

Dixon congratulated Newgarden and while he couldn’t capture the pole, he’s confident that a third Texas victory is possible based on how well he and his fellow teammates Felix Rosenqvist (ninth fastest) and Marcus Ericsson (18th fastest) were.

“(Newgarden’s team) were good in practice. They did obviously a great job there. I think I probably lifted a little bit on the table which was somewhat frustrating,” said Dixon. “I think all three Ganassi cars will be fantastic, especially on the long run that we did so hopefully we can get the PNC Bank back to victory circle at Texas.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay (214.311 mph) has already had an eventful Saturday where he damaged the car toe in a Turn 2 crash during practice. His No. 28 Honda got out in time for qualifying where he went fourth fastest, overcoming their adversity from earlier.

“I’m extremely pleased. Everybody on the No. 28 team did a great job. They thrashed to put this car together,” said Hunter-Reay. “We have to make sure everything is absolute perfect on an oval. It’s not easy and they just did an amazing job. We had quite a bit of work to do, but we got it back in line just before the cutoff. They did a great job.”

The biggest contributor of Hunter-Reay’s crash was NASCAR’s PJ1 compound. The main concern for the 24-car field as several drivers have struggled going through that patch the track just got rid of a week before the single-day event.

This became more apparent when Takuma Sato went through the grip-less compound and lost in Turn 1 on his warm-up lap. The spin sent him into the wall nose first and a shot of scoring back-to-back NTT P1 Pole Awards at Texas were gone.

Sato did got of his car and went to the infield care center where he was checked and released.

“It was a big moment. It was only the warm-up lap and lost the back end immediately,” said Sato. “I turned in and usually it didn’t happen like that, so it caught me by surprise. Hopefully, we can fix it and return to the race. It’s quite tight.”

As for the status of his shambled No. 30 Honda, Sato believed they have a backup car which could’ve been a road course kit, but any repair must be done in such a short period of time.

Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal (starting seventh), discussed how difficult has it been to go through the compound as some drivers (including Newgarden) have been very timid trying out the second groove.

“It’s pretty slippery,” said Rahal. “If you go too high, the car becomes very loose on that. You enter the corner too shallow, then it doesn’t want to turn at all. You’re kind of dancing that fine line, but I hope (Sato) is okay.

“Everybody’s got to be smart. We’ve had four crashes already today. That’s very unusual on a race weekend for us.”

Rookie Rinus VeeKay didn’t partake in the qualifying session following his Turn 3 practice crash. The Ed Carpenter Racing team were repairing the wounded No. 21 Chevrolet by using parts of Ed Carpenter’s backup No. 20 Chevy.

One driver didn’t took part of qualifying, not because of an accident but to put more effort on improving the car. That was Santino Ferrucci in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan Honda, who’ll start at the rear of the field.

The INDYCAR season will finally kickoff at 5:00 pm on NBC. Newgarden is the defending winner at the 1.5-mile oval as tires will be another question mark.

This is due to COVID-19 where the Firestone plant halted operations and with the tires provided to the competitors, they can only run 35 green flag laps per set which will make for an intriguing race.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.