Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

The Drive for Five: Newgarden Takes First Race in Iowa Doubleheader

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

NEWTON, Iowa – Josef Newgarden is inevitable.

After falling short in qualifying earlier in the day, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet bided his time in the early going of Saturday’s Hy-Vee Homefront 250 at Iowa Speedway before taking over the lead just prior to the halfway mark and never looking back en route to his fifth win at the track.

Newgarden rolled off from third place behind teammates Will Power and Scott McLaughlin, who looked to be the class of the field in the first half of the race, but following some adjustments from his crew, Newgarden was able to chase down McLaughlin for second before setting his sights on Power and the lead.

The winning move finally came on lap 121, when he ascended to the lead over Power and aside from pit stop cycles would not be moved. By the time all was said and done, Newgarden led 129 of the final 130 laps, finishing 3.375 seconds ahead of McLaughlin.

“It was a great day,” Newgarden said. “My team, they are unbelievable. They always give me a great car. I show up every weekend and I feel like I’ve got the best of the best behind me. Team Penske, I’m proud to be a part of this team.”

Newgarden explained that while he and the team missed it in qualifying, they were able to dial in the car once the race began to get him back in the ballgame to be able to take the fight to his teammates.

“Look, we did not start where we wanted to be and that was right from qualifying. I was so frustrated,” Newgarden said.

“We unloaded off the truck pretty much perfectly. Luke Mason did an amazing job with this car. It was exactly where it needed to be and to qualify how we did…I’ve messed up qualifying here so many times and it never gets easier. I’m always so mad at myself that we didn’t get that right. And it was like that in the beginning of the race.

“It took us literally a stint and a half until we got the car just where it needed to be. Once it was comfy, I think it was the car to beat, I really do. We needed to manage it and we did that.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything for tomorrow. I promise you everyone is going to get better. They already got better from last year, so we’ve got to stay on our toes. Maybe we can do another one.”

For McLaughlin, Saturday’s finish marks another runner-up result to Newgarden on ovals, only fueling the Kiwi’s desire to beat his teammate and “Bus Bros” co-host at some point in the future.

“I’m going to get him at some point,” McLaughlin said. “I’m very determined. Helluva race. I think the three of us could have easily swept the top three there. Pato did an awesome job. Their cars are just really good through traffic.

“What I learned with Josef during the week, during the last couple of weeks, has been huge. It’s a nice little rabbit to chase when he’s out in front. When you can keep up with him, that’s a nice feeling. Gives me a lot of confidence.

“Learned a lot for tomorrow. I think we’ve got a really good race car we can sort of evolve with and just get better.”

Ahead of the weekend, the teammates opened up the playbook to help elevate the team as a whole, but even with the information being shared, Newgarden added that McLaughlin is still in for a fight if he wants to knock him off the top of the mountain.

“He’s been — he’s a great member of the team. He’s a good pal. I want to kick his ass as much as anybody,” Newgarden said.

“If he knows exactly what I know, then it’s just going to come down to who’s doing a better job. If he does a better job than me, then he deserves to win.

“I hope he doesn’t do a better job than me tomorrow, but if he does, he’ll be a deserving winner. Let’s see what happens. He looked really good today. I’m going to probably have to step up a little bit more tomorrow.”

Pato O’Ward finished the race a distant third, scoring his fifth podium finish of the season. Marcus Ericsson was the highest finishing Honda in fourth-place.

“Solid podium for us today, but we didn’t have anything for the Penskes,” O’Ward said. “We need to take a solid step forward if we want to make them sweat tomorrow.

“I think they were specifically strong in getting through traffic, and I would get stuck. I wasn’t able to really place the car where I needed to in order to get by some of the slow cars. I’m obviously happy with it, but considering how much pace we had here last year, it was a bit of like, ‘Where is it?’”

Will Power faded to fifth-place at the end of the race after dominating the first half of the race, avoiding a near-miss with the wall during the latter stages of the event.

Scott Dixon finished as the first car a lap down in sixth, followed by Kyle Kirkwood, Alex Palou, Takuma Sato, and Alexander Rossi rounding out the top-10.

Teams will now have less than 24 hours to regroup before the second race of the Iowa double-header, the Hy-Vee One Step 250. Power will once again lead the field to green with McLaughlin alongside on the front row.

Newgarden will have a little tougher task on Sunday as he will start from seventh-place.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.