Josef Newgarden says his chances of winning this year’s IndyCar Series would have been better if not for a decisive mistake.
The Team Penske pilot sensationally bombed out of the group stages of qualifying during the season-finale when he spun in the Corkscrew at California’s famed Laguna Seca circuit.
While he was left beached on the kerb, teammate Will Power went on to take pole position and earn a bonus point for his efforts.
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It was evident during the race that Newgarden had the speed to win as he surged from last to the top three with relative ease.
However, by the time he found himself in contention, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou had streaked out to a mammoth lead that stood at 30 seconds by the race’s end.
For Newgarden, it was a case of what could have been.
“I think it’s a different day if you start on pole for sure,” Newgarden explained.
“That gives us a very different picture. We’re going to run a different race and we’re going to run it from no deficit. We started this race last, so we started at a big deficit.
“It’s hard to predict. If we didn’t have the deficit, I don’t know if we would have had enough to beat this guy [Palou] today. I mean, he was stellar, and there’s no doubt about it, so I don’t want to marginalise what he did.
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“But it’s a different day when you start first. We wouldn’t have had that deficit to make up. I don’t know how that would have turned out. I don’t know if it would have kind of changed [Power’s] program.
“Really we win the pole, we win the day, all I need is for Power to finish fourth, and that seems pretty doable, right?
“Ultimately the spin was almost the nail in the coffin this weekend. We didn’t need that to happen. It was such a silly thing to happen, too. It wasn’t some grandiose problem. There’s one kerb you don’t want to touch and I accidentally touched it, and it created a big issue.
“Hard to say how it would have come out if we had put the thing on pole yesterday, but I would have rather have done that and seen what happened than have to come from the back today.”
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In the end, Newgarden ended his season 16 points adrift of Power.
It was, by the two-time series winner’s account, a “rollercoaster” season.
The American ended the year with the most wins of any driver with five all told.
However, he also had five finishes outside the top 10, two of which were 25th and 24th.
“Some years in particular just seem to be bad stretches, and this year was most taxing because of the roller coaster,” Newgarden said.
“It was one weekend we’d be winning the race, next weekend it was going sideways for one reason or another.
“I wouldn’t put any negative or problem on anyone within the team. I don’t think we’re going to go into the off-season and say, ‘hey, we’ve got to change a bunch of stuff’.
“Timing-wise it was just a really tough year timing-wise, so mentally it was a little bit of a drain because the more success you find, the more you demand perfection from each race, so the more taxing it is when it’s not going correct.
“But I don’t think it’s anything that we could predict or really alter. I think we just need a little better timing here.
“But everyone did their job this season. I’m really proud of everybody. It’s not like we need a lot of changes. I think we called good races. We pitted the car well. It’s reliable, as reliable as you can expect.
“There’s always one or two things that are going to happen, but I think we have really reliable cars, so I’m not going to be demanding a lot of changes. It just needs a little bit of momentum to roll our way consistently next year.”
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