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NEWGARDEN WINS HIS FIRST INDY CAR RACE IN ALABAMA AS THE SERIES HEADS TO INDIANAPOLIS
Author: Mark W. Theisen
May 6th 2015 -
     WEST BEND, WISCONSIN MAY 1, 2015:    It was a long time coming and a very difficult path but Josef Newgarden is finally a winner on the Verizon IndyCar Series and he did it in convincing fashion this past Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
    Driving for Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing (CFH) Racing in 2015, a combination of the former Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Team and Ed Carpenter Racing it took the revised team just 4 races to post its first victory together and from how it was achieved it could be the springboard to many more win in the future and has to be a huge confidence booster as the team heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the month long slate of activities that leads up to the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24th.
     Not as well funded as some of the bigger teams in the Verizon IndyCar series, Sunday’s race on the 2.3 mile, 17-turn road course in Alabama was dominated by a more aggressive Newgarden than one has witnessed in the past.  Qualifying 5th Newgarden shot past Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud in the first and second turns and then overtook defending series champion Will Power before the end of the first lap to put himself in second and chasing down leader and pole sitter Helio Castroneves in just one lap.
  “It is crucial to get a good start these days to have a chance in this series,” said a jubilant Newgarden after the race  “In practice and qualification’s we knew we had a car capable to win this weekend and that dictated our early on strategy.  With the competition in the series today you cannot put yourself in a hole early.” 
     Castroneves, the series point leader driving for Team Penske, lead the first 18 laps of the race before making his first pit stop.  Pagenaud, also a Penske driver, inherited the lead when Castroneves made his stop.  Newgarden than led laps 22, 23 & 24 before making his initial stop, his Chevrolet powered Dallara getting better fuel midge today than some of his rivals.
     When the first round of pits stop was over it was Graham Rahal in front in his Honda powered Dallara from Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing using pit strategy and speed to lead the race for the next 9 laps.
     Teams using different pit strategies made for a host of different leaders as James Hinchcliffe. Sebastien Bourdais and Juan Pablo Montoya all took turns at the point until Newgarden began asserting control. 
     Newgarden paced laps 51 through 62 before his team brought him in for his final stop giving the lead to Dixon.  When Dixon made his final stop on lap 64 it was Rahal back in front but because he was on a different pit strategy. Rahal then led for nine more laps before making his final stop. On lap 69 giving way to Newgarden.
     When Rahal returned to the track he was 20 seconds behind the leader.  It as his team’s strategy to be on fresher tires and with more fuel could run wide open while those who stopped earlier would have to conserve both fuel and tires to make it to the end of the race.
     At the end Rahal was able lop off nearly 18 seconds of that lead and finished 2.2061 seconds behind the winner.
     Newgarden questioned the early pit decision and was concerned if he had enough fuel to make it to the end and his crew did an excellent job in quelling the nerves of their driving looking for his first win.
      “I’m honestly happy that it is over,” said Newgarden following his arduous trek to his first win.  “It seems we’ve worked so long and so hard to get to this point, it is just surreal.   I’m so happy for this team, they have worked so hard.”
     Early on, Newgarden, who had driven his entire IndyCar career for Sarah Fisher Hartman, was skeptical about the merging of their team with that of Ed Carpenter.  Carpenter, had given the team its first and only IndyCar series win in 2011 at Kentucky Motor Speedway before leaving to form his own team. Under the Fisher Hartman banner Newgarden was able to post two second place finishes in 2013 as the best of his previous 54 races going into today’s contest.
     Carpenter brought to the table the Chevrolet engine package and that was lucrative enough for the Fisher Hartman group to make the deal and now the decision looks like a very solid one as the fledgling team was able to hold off the superstars of the series Sunday at Barber.  
      Dixon finished Sunday’s race in third to move into third in the series point standings.  Power finished fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five.  Rahal and Hunter-Reay were in Honda powered cars as that group continues to made strides against Chevrolet after coming out of the box in 2015 behind on their development of the aero packages that were mandated for their cars in 2015.
     Montoya continues to lead the series standings after the first four races with 136 points to 133 for Castroneves, who stumbled to a 15th place finish Sunday.  Dixon has 123 while Newgarden moved from 9th to 4th with his win now totaling 119 points.  Power rounds out the top five with 112 markers.
     Chevrolet has won three of the first four races and has taken the pole position at all four races yet four different drivers have won the races and that bodes well for the series going forward.  Add to that Honda showing signs of competitiveness at Barber and it opens the doors to a wild month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
    The Verizon IndyCar series now heads to Indianapolis for its next two races.  
    This coming Sunday, May 3rd, the track opens for month of May activities with first time practice for the oval track aero packages on the cars.  Veterans will be on the track from 9:30 A.M. until 10:45 A.M. before the track is turned over for rookie orientation and refresher programs for drivers who have not raced on the 2 and one half mile oval in a while.  Practice on the oval will return in the afternoon.
     The facility will be converted into road course configuration for the second running of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis with practice beginning on May 7th at 11:00 A.M.
     Practice will continue of Friday May 8th at 11 with qualifying for the race set at 3:00 P.M.
     The Angie’s List Grand Prix will take the green flag at 3:50 P.M. on Saturday May 9th.
     The teams will use their road and street course aero packages foe the Angie’s List race and then the oval package foe he 500.  It will truly be a busy month for the teams and a chance for fans to see both versions of the 2015 IndyCar at the same venue with the span of just seven days.
     Following the Grand Prix the track will revert back to the oval format for the rest of the month with practice and qualifications for the 500 set to encompass the balance of the schedule.
     The 500 is still on track to have 34 cars vying for the 33 starting positions for the 99th running of the race.  Since I last wrote Conor Daly has been confirmed for the third entrant from Schmidt Peterson Racing.  We are still awaiting announcement from Dale Coyne Racing to complete the 500 entry list and that should be known by next week.
     Check back here for that was well as all the action at the Angie’s List Grand Prix next weekend.