|From left, Rahal, Newgarden and Dixon|
An interview with:
1st Josef Newgarden – Chevy
2nd Graham Rahal – Honda
3rd Scott Dixon – Chevy
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series post race press conference.
We're joined by Graham Rahal, finishing second. Obviously an exciting race for you. Take us through the action on the final lap.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a really good race today. Proud of my team. I think we've been working extremely hard. I think everybody probably noticed I think the performance of the team is considerably better than it has been the last couple years.
It was my choice to stay out. I didn't think they would be able to make it on fuel so I kind of just said, Now let's take our chance. I want to be able to drive hard, push hard the entire race, versus saving fuel. I think it worked to a certain extent.
Really the last 15 laps getting around, I think it was seven to go when I cleared Hunter-Reay and Helio. They told me I was seven seconds behind Dixon. I felt like, Geez, this is probably not going to happen. Luckily, I was able to push hard and make up some time.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I have to thank those guys, Scott. There's not that many guys that do that and give you the space to make any sort of move here. I think we put on a good show today.
It feels good to be here. We've been kind of knocking on the door this year. I thought when I was out there running in the clear, getting a bit of a gap, I thought, Shit, today might be the day. But came up one short.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by Scott Dixon, finishing third. Scott, obviously you were hoping to get to the first spot today but you can't be disappointed with a finish like that.
SCOTT DIXON: No. I think looking at it from every time we've been here, this is probably the best job as a team we did. We were horrible at the start. I shuffled back there a little bit. Josef had the inside, Pagenaud was going to the outside. It just didn't work out. We burnt the rear tires up within about 10 laps. Sort of just holding on, backing up a bunch of people.
We worked on the car. Luckily we caught that yellow, were able to get fuel mileage with the Chevy which is not normally our strong suit. It was remarkably easy today getting the fuel mileage we needed. Our we couldn't hold on to the tires.
Good day for the Coca-Cola team. Obviously we would have loved to have finished a lap higher. We readjusted from where we started to get some valuable points. In third place, 10 points to second. Considering before we were fifth, it's a good turnaround with the Indy race coming up.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Today is about Josef Newgarden winning his first race. Can you both share a story or anecdote about Josef.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Got him to sip some champagne. He doesn't drink. I've been trying for years to get him to do something.
SCOTT DIXON: I trained with Josef for a number of years. He doesn't train with me anymore. He's a super nice guy. Couldn't meet a nicer person. A huge talent. Unfortunately I think he would have won a lot earlier. He's had some situations that caught him out.
For a group, their team, they're extremely good on ovals, to see them turn around and pretty much dominate today. They had the field. They could turn it up when they needed to, save fuel.
He out-classed a lot of great teams today and a lot of great drivers. It was good to see him do it today. Yeah, it was good.
Q. Scott, was your team telling you a fuel number? You were able to pit a lot on the last sequence.
SCOTT DIXON: Fuel mileage wasn't our problem. We were getting massive fuel mileage. I think we pitted too early on that last one. Our biggest downfall today was tire management. We couldn't keep the tires on the car. The whole last stint, they were, You can go, you can go, you don't have to save fuel. As soon as I turned the speed up, I burnt the tires. There was no issue today at all with fuel, it was just maintaining the tires.
Q. Graham, you put the car on rails the last few laps. Describe the Honda car, how it felt.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I got to say, my concern today was passing, frankly. Coming off Long Beach, it was pretty difficult to follow others. This place is pretty fast. It could be even more difficult.
But today I was able to make a lot of moves. Really my strong point was off of turn three into five where I got most people. It was pretty good.
As Scott said, the key today was tire management. The aero kit can be difficult, but my car was pretty good on tires. But fell off right after the first stint. I think we got him right before the pit stop. Three, four laps after that, mine started to go off pretty badly.
We came in a little early on that one, changed tires. We did new black, new black, then new red at the end. The car was consistent on tires. That's why we were able to make a charge there.
We had the fuel to do it, but the car was stable underneath us. I think Honda's done a good job. Certainly they've taken a beating in the media. We're trying to do our best as a team to lead the charge for them. Today felt pretty good.
Q. Graham, a lot of the Honda teams do feel a little ham-strung right now. For whatever reason, whether it's in practice or the race, your team has stepped up and has been at least this weekend the stalwart of that team. What are you doing that is a sign of things coming for Honda, that this isn't a lost season?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's personnel, the people we have within this team. It's a great group this year. We've kind of gone through our ups and downs there. I think Scott would tell you the strength of Chip Ganassi Racing is the people.
Obviously when you have the funding to do it, it makes it easier. But it's the people that make these things happen. We got a team that loves working together. The engineers are doing a great job. We've got guys I love working with. That's a big part of this, too.
I can't say that we've got it covered because we don't. We have a long way to go. We got to make sure we're maximizing our points. I haven't even seen the oval aero kit in person yet. I haven't driven it, obviously.
Our focus right now is to try to keep this momentum, have a really good run they Grand Prix. Hopefully we have a good test next weekend with the aero kit. But, you know, this team is what's making the difference, and I think it's showing.
Q. Scott, could you talk a little bit about during this race, what set of tires you started on, black or reds, what you went through. Graham talked about having two new sets of black, ending with the red set. Also at the beginning of your race, you said your tires really went off. How do you keep your head in the game when it looks like you're going backwards?
SCOTT DIXON: I'm not sure if my head was in the game. I was yelling pretty hard, probably not using correct language.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]But you just got to keep trying. You know with a scenario like that, I think for us we went red, red, black, red. But we also used our older set first. They were put on the car I think by mistake. I just learned that from the engineer at the end of the race.
In one scenario it helped us change the car quite quickly from the start of the race, try to help it for later on. Then with the yellow, how it caught us out…
Today, on any tires, we didn't maintain. The car always had the speed for the first, you know, sort of 15 laps, 20 laps. It was probably one of the fastest cars out there. It was just trying to keep the tires underneath it. We didn't do a good job of that.
Be key for later on I think with races to come. But I think, as Graham pointed out, most people today, when you have a race like this where you got to maintain tire degradation, it just makes fantastic racing. I think it's something that obviously with the aero kits, makes it a little harder to get close. When you have tires going off, the racing gets exciting up there.
Hopefully IndyCar takes note of that and we can obviously try to maintain that throughout the season.
Q. Graham, you alluded on the podium about your comfort level on this track. Talk about it.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's a track I love. Always had a lot of fun running around this place. It's very physical, it's very demanding. It's a place that to go fast you got to drive it on the ragged edge. I think that's a lot of fun.
We've had some good years here and some bad ones. This will be my best memory, clearly, but 2012, my last year with Ganassi, was a really good run as well.
I don't know why. I just really enjoy this one.
I think the tire degradation here is always worse. I remember when we first came here and tested, everybody was like, Oh, man, we're not going to pass, it's going to be terrible. It's probably one of the most entertaining races of the year every single year. It's a lot of fun.
Q. I've heard that at this track, because of the high-speed turns, there would be a lot of g-forces on the drivers' bodies. How do you feel physical fitness-wise? Is it different than the last year you raced here because the aero kits?
SCOTT DIXON: Today I don't think it was that bad just because of the fact you're trying to get fuel mileage or you're trying to save the tires.
Qualifying was probably the most difficult, neck and arms, things like that. But the race to try and maintain those loads, the car's just not going to do it for that consistency or that length of the race.
Physically for how we raced today, we raced in very conservative approach. Graham was in a much different situation where he had to push the whole time. It can change.
GRAHAM RAHAL: The loads weren't too bad really. As Scott said, you can get that for a few laps. After a while, the tire goes off a little bit, you lose that.
It was my choice not pitting there at the second yellow. For sure, it was one of the toughest races I've driven because I had to drive all out like it was qualifying every lap. That takes a lot of concentration and makes you pretty tired. I'll sleep well tonight, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. We'll see you soon.
We're joined by Josef Newgarden. Josef, a very steady improvement for you over the years here at Barber Motorsports Park. Tell us how excited you are to get your first win.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I'm honestly just happy it's over with. I feel like we've been working forever for that. Not just today with CFH Racing. Obviously this is a continuation of our efforts at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, and now merging with Ed Carpenter, becoming one team, there's been a lot of work put in by a lot of people to get victories. I'm just happy for everyone that we did that finally.
You get that first one, everyone says it's off your back, you can just let it flow. I don't know if that's true yet because I don't have experience with that. But it was going to happen at some point. I felt like it was. This team was too good. They gave me such good opportunities in the past. Today was another one of those opportunities to just go out there and do the job. It paid off.
I'm so relieved that it's over with. I really wanted that race to end. Right from the middle of it, it was so stressful for me. Normally I'm pretty cool. I felt cool out there, but it was just very stressful to run those laps, try to control that.
We've been there before, things have gone wrong. Today nothing went wrong. We had everything we needed to to win. Just a nice, solid day for our group with everyone involved.
Thanks to our owners, partners, everyone that does everything with us. Our team, mechanics, engineers, crew, all phenomenal. Just really happy for everyone at CFH Racing.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. The story of the race may have been lap one when you went from fifth to third in one turn, then you were up to second by the end of that lap. How crucial was that start to set the tone for the rest of your race?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think it was critical. You don't mess around in the IndyCar Series. You're not going to get in one of these cars, be up front with these type of guys. If you're not on your game, you're going to get swallowed up quick. You're not messing around, I don't want to make it sound like that, but today I really was not looking to take it easy.
Take that as you want. What I mean by it is that in early parts of a championship, you can get settled in on taking it easy, making sure you secure points, get good results, not wreck the car, not get too antsy at the start.
Today I didn't want to do that. I wanted to go. I wanted to get as many spots at possible, passes a many people as I could, just make it happen. I knew we had a great car to do it, had a great strategy. That's all I wanted to do at the start.
It was, for sure, critical for us to get by Scott and Simon into one, get Will in 14, 15, just to get it out of the way, then we could just concentrate on Helio. There was one guy we had to focus on at that point.
Fortunately he was struggling a little bit the whole race from what I could see. We were able to hound him, make things happen with fuel mileage, jump him in the pits, get him back when he got us in the pits.
It was critical to get that start so we didn't have to worry about a bunch of guys because it would have made our day a lot harder. Definitely contributed a lot to that victory of just getting close to the front, trying to work it from there. It's always easier instead of having to pass four other guys.
Q. Since this is a day of looking back, tell us about those long days of driving up to Newcastle. This is a real family commitment. Did you ever think it would really happen for you?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Dude, no joke, it's kind of crazy. I mean, you know, I told my dad, I was like, You know, regardless of what happens, we can look back and we won at least one race in IndyCar. That's pretty cool. You win any race in IndyCar, it's a big deal. It's not an easy field to topple, not an easy bunch of groups with teams to topple.
For us, I'm so pleased for anyone and everyone that helped me get to this point, especially my parents. There's a lot of sacrifice that goes into any young kid's life. When you have good parents that really raise you well, want the best for you as a young kid, they put that time and effort in, there's a lot that goes in from that side.
It comes down to my parents, any friends, any mentors over the years. I mean, starts at Mark Dismore at Newcastle, a young kid, 13, racing go-karts. That's where it started from me. It kind of snowballed from there with the amount of people that helped me and my family get to this point.
It's a really big deal. You really transition into the team side, and it's hard to get to the point of the cusp of IndyCar, but then actually to get hired and be given a shot to run in the series is very difficult.
I was one of the lucky ones where I got a call from Wink Hartman, Sarah Fisher, Andy O'Gara, and they gave me an opportunity to be a professional driver. Then they kept me in a seat for all these years, continuing this year with Ed Carpenter, everyone involved in Ed Carpenter Racing.
I've been blessed to have an opportunity to be a driver. I mean, not a lot of kids nowadays that want to be professional racecar drivers, they don't get that opportunity.
There's a lot of people to thank that go into a day like this. For me, I don't want to win just one race. I'm a racer. You're here to dominate and win many races. Fortunate for the opportunity, but I want to keep hammering away with this group and hopefully we can keep doing things like this.
Q. Today so much of the race was about pit strategy, two different strategies, yours versus Graham's. How confident were you in your own crew that they'd step up in? Secondly, when you got to the fuel number, how far did you think you could go before the end of the stint?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I'm not going to lie. I got really nervous on that last stint. I wasn't nervous in the team at all, not a bit. I felt super confident in our group, what we were doing.
But they kept telling me to save more fuel. I mean, it was like halfway through the stint, Dude, we're good. We're totally clear to go to the end. Then they were like, Just to be safe, let's drop that fuel number down a little bit more. Then they said that like two more times.
I went on the radio, and I was like, Okay, so are we good or are we just being safe? I'm pretty sure we were being safe because I understood we were very clear to go. We were confident in the fuel numbers we were hitting. The Chevy power was easy for us to maintain and save fuel.
No lack of confidence in my team, just lack of confidence in the circumstances, I guess you could say. I got a little flustered at the end. But I was staying cool because I knew my team was going to make me hit a number I needed to hit before the end, and it wasn't going to be a problem. We had such a cushion, there was really no point for us to try and eke that lead out more. We didn't have to do that.
I think that was just them being cautious, making sure we were doing everything we needed to do to have enough fuel, probably being over-safe. No lack of confidence in the team. The team was on it straight from the start.
Q. Talk about the move on Helio on the second restart.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, it was honestly the same thing I did to Will. It worked really well.
Helio was truly struggling a little bit. I think he was nervous on high speed, just the rear-end of his car. He looked very loose to me the entire race. I could see that. After the pit stop when he got in front of me, I said, I'm not going to wait behind this guy, I'm going to go. He didn't look confident in his car from the rear-end of it.
Right on the restart I tried to do the same thing I did to Power. I snuck up on the inside of him into 16. Thankfully it worked fine. Really that set the tone for us where we could control the pace from that point and we could control the outcome of the race. That's what we were able to do.
Happy that worked out. But, yeah, just tried to be aggressive today. Like I said, you really got to be on your game to beat Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon. They're phenomenal racers with incredible skill and efficiency in this series. I tried to be really aggressive and make it happen, not second guess anything.
Fortunately we were just able to move forward. We had a good car. We made it happen.
Q. You're an American driver. Graham is an American driver. 1-2 finish, how important is that for the series?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I thought Graham did a great job. I don't know what happened to Scott. Scott looked great to me on the restart. He could see he was hounding Helio behind me after I got around him. I said, Scott's the guy to beat today. There were points like, Scott's really good. I know how fast he's been around this track. He's so good at saving fuel. I thought he was going to be my main opponent, we were going to be closer at the end.
He just seemed to fade for whatever reason on that final stint. Graham obviously just had a storming last stint to get up in front of him.
Take it as you will. I think, yeah, having successful Americans in this series is great. I don't know if that's what you have to have. The IndyCar Series is all about diversity and bringing the best of the world to race in a great North American championship.
I don't know if it's necessary that you have to have an American win. I think it's just nice. Certainly people here in Birmingham thought it was cool maybe a Nashville guy won the race. That's kind of cool.
I don't think it's necessary. I think it just adds to the cool factor of IndyCar.
Q. When you look at the kind of 'what ifs' there have been, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio last year, Iowa, Baltimore, what kind of concern do you have, Something bad is going to happen again when you were finally in this position and all the stars were set to align?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: You know, I did think about that during the race. That's a great question. I wasn't worried about it. If something broke or I messed up and threw the car off, maybe there were some crazy circumstances or the strategy didn't work out. Whatever it may be, if it didn't happen today, I really wasn't worried about it.
All you can really ask for in the IndyCar Series is to be up front knocking on the door every weekend. When you're doing that, it's going to eventually come around. I knew at some point this team was too good, we had too good the cars, just too good of a group, it was inevitable I thought that we were going to get one at some point.
Even if that didn't happen today, I wouldn't have been too worried about it. I would have been sad. I think we would just go to the next one, try to bang on the door again, wait for the opportunity.
I really wasn't worried about it too much. I thought about it, but I wasn't worried about it.
Q. The momentum factor of going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now for the next two races, that has to be huge, especially when you know how good Ed Carpenter is at that track.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Man, I'm excited about Indy specifically because of Ed. He's so cool. I love Ed. We're great friends. We spend a lot of time together. He's just been really good to me as a young driver.
I'm excited to work with him because he's so good at what he does on the oval. He has such a great craft. I've not even been exposed to it up close and personal. I've seen it from an outside view. Excited to see that closely, learn from it and match him and better him.
That's what's going to be fun. We're going to be teammates working together trying to get the most, but we're going to be looking to beat each other, too.
On Pole Day, he's obviously the King right now setting back-to-back poles. I'm looking to beat him. We're going to have a good time as a group trying not only to beat each other but the whole field at IndyCar. Ultimately we want to win the Indianapolis 500. It's not just about speed, but for this team it's about winning the Indy 500.
There's no better group than I'd want to be with than this one. I really feel confident in their abilities and I think we'll have a great shot at doing well at that event.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. We'll see you in Indy.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Thank you so much.