|Newgarden collects his Astor Cup|
THE MODERATOR: From driving up the road Nashville to Indianapolis to a go-kart track to Europe to the Mazda Road to Indy to Team Penske, stops at Sarah's team, Ed's team, here you are. Welcome, IndyCar champion.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's a crazy journey. Forgive me if my words aren't so great right now. I feel like I've talked too much after this. I got definitely emotional with the whole — just the whole ceremony process and seeing everyone there and how happy everyone else was. It's taken a lot of people to get to this point, clearly and obviously. This started a long time ago with just my parents, and they're the biggest reason that I've been able to do this. They've put everything on the line for me to make sure I had an opportunity to do this, and that's where it starts, and then it kind of falls into line with everyone else.
Everyone else, there's a long list of people that have made it happen along the way, from karts to going to Europe to coming back and to getting an IndyCar opportunity and now being here with Team Penske. It's a crazy journey. It's so cool to be able to do this, though. I'm so proud of everyone involved and everyone at Team Penske and what we were able to put together today as a group.
THE MODERATOR: Everyone that's come in here since the race was over mentioned about being an American champion, and you put the flag around you up there. I think you were a little surprised by that, didn't really know how to take it, felt like a boxer. But it's important, and you know it is.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I mean, obviously for me, I've always preached that it's great that we have the best of the best in the Verizon IndyCar Series. We don't want a championship filled with just American drivers, but it's important to have the best of America in it. You know, and I think the Mazda Road to Indy has come such a long way, and the farming system seems to be working again.
I feel like team owners and people within IndyCar are looking to the youth in America, which is a great thing. I think there's more guys that are capable that are coming up to help fly the flag in this series. But as I said, the best thing is we have people from all around the world that are the best at what they do, and we've got to continue to have that. We have to have the best from Europe and from anywhere overseas because if it's just Americans running it wouldn't mean anything. But certainly having successful Americans is a big deal, too.
Q. Just thinking back to 2012 when you strapped into the car driving for Sarah Fisher, did you ever think that you would be a Team Penske driver, let alone a champion in your first year with them?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Hard to tell. I didn't know what was going to happen. You work so hard just to get an opportunity on the professional stage, and then for it to take a turn to this point, I think you work so hard to just get to the IndyCar level that you don't really think about anything beyond that. You don't think about, well, what's the maximum at the IndyCar level you could get to.
So not really. I mean, I just always dreamed and hoped that I could have a very successful career and be good at this, but you never know if it's going to work out.
And I think the more years I drove in IndyCar, the more I thought I would never get hired by a team like Team Penske. I never thought that would really happen. It seemed like those guys didn't want me a part of their team, which was fine with me in some degree because I've worked with a lot of great groups before and we've had a lot of success, but having been a part of Team Penske for a year now, I can't tell you how amazing they are as a group. I'm so honored to drive for Roger and Tim and the entire team and all our partners. They're the best of the best. I mean, they really are. I can see why, having been a part of it. They're something special.
Q. The lap 63, 65 battle where the two of you came — where you and Simon met after the pit stop and you raced him really hard, and at one point Tim Cindric came over the radio and said, "championship." What was it that you wanted to finish ahead of him so bad?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It was my instinct. My instinct when I saw him was I'm going to beat him, and that's just my — honestly that's my natural instinct inside the car is just to beat whoever is in front of me. That's what I felt like. I was on reds, he was out of the pits, he was like weak prey in front of me, so I'm going to get him. But I also tried to measure it the way I was doing it. I didn't want to do something silly.
And then obviously the more that that lap progressed, Tim was very vocal and coaching me through it and telling me, this is the situation. You know, it made a lot of sense in my mind when he was over the radio, so I've got to give a lot of credit to Tim for keeping me in check and making sure that I was thinking correctly this whole weekend and certainly in that moment.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I think it's fitting, it's great for us that another car won the race, part of our team, so you've got a team car winning the race, you've got a team car winning the championship. We're all really winning this weekend. It takes a group to make this happen, and it's taken all four of these teams to bring a championship together, so it's a group effort.
THE MODERATOR: How much time did you give to the crash at Watkins Glen? It had to just be a little bit unnerving.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: You know, I was just pissed. I was pissed at myself for making a mistake. I always get pissed when I make a mistake. Like Texas this year, I'm just furious. You don't want to be around me for 24 to 48 hours. My girlfriend knows it's not a good time. I try and be polite, but once I get home, you don't want to be around me. And that was kind of the case with Watkins Glen. But that's where it stopped. I was just mad at myself for my mistake and any time I do that I get mad about it. But I moved on pretty quickly.
The way I always looked at the championship was it was going to come down to Sonoma, and I don't know if it's a good way or bad way to view it but it's the way I viewed it and the way I was playing it was that Watkins didn't matter. I think everyone was telling me, you have a big point lead so you need to just protect that, finish wherever you can at Watkins Glen. I kind of thought, it doesn't really matter, why don't we just try and make more points because it's going to come down to Sonoma regardless, so if we have a wreck you're still going to have to fight for it here.
Looking back on it, I feel like that's kind of a mistake. I think I'd play it differently now after what happened at Watkins Glen, but at the end of the day, it did come down to this race, and we needed to execute, and we had the team to do it when we needed it.
Q. All year long IndyCar has been promoting next, and do you see this as a pivot point in the series in that it's now your time, it's now Alexander Rossi's time, it's now drivers in their mid to late 20s' time to begin to be big time stars, champions, Indy 500 winners? That this is going to be the generation we're going to sit and watch for the next 15, 20 years be stars in this sport?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't know the answer fully. I mean, I hope that I'll be around for a long time. I'd love that. I'd love to have a long successful career like any racer at this level would. Everyone wants that as a driver. You want to be around for a long time and have a lot of success. So I hope so. I mean, I think it's going to be a natural thing. I think eventually the champions of the past are going to — they're going to eventually be done with their careers. That's just a natural process.
You know, the youth that is coming up, I do believe you're going to hopefully see for a long time, and I think there's a lot of bright spots within the Mazda Road to Indy and some of the guys that are coming over from overseas that are young. So I think there's a lot of talent in the world that are yet to make their mark in IndyCar Series, and you're going to see that for years to come. Hopefully that includes me, too, but there's no telling what the future holds.
Q. You did a lot of silly promotional things a few years ago. You sat in the stands and had people not know who you were. We played with wind-up guitars yesterday in your press thing.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, that was fun.
Q. You've done a lot of that kind of stuff, and that's brought you to this stage and it's also brought you a lot of fans along the way. You're no longer the anonymous guy. How does that feel to not only have established yourself but made yourself a champion?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I mean, honestly for me it's just always been about success on the racetrack. Whether that's a selfish answer or not, that's always been the most important thing to me. It's what I love. I feel committed to doing it with the people around me, and that's everyone, whether it's people that have helped put me in the car or it's the people that I get to work with every week. You feel the passion from the people that you work with. I feel it from everyone in the Team Penske shop. You feel it every weekend from the mechanics that you're getting to work with.
We all want to win, so I kind of — I've always prioritized that. The fun stuff that I've been able to do along the way and what that's done for me is — has been enjoyable at times, it really has. I've enjoyed that part of it, and I think it's great for our fans that they enjoy it and they want to see it more, and I feel like IndyCar has kind of pushed the boundaries more than other sports in a lot of ways sooner than other sports, too, and involving ourselves with the fans and making ourselves more just human and normal to people instead of just sports idols. I think that's a great thing. Yeah, I appreciate that. I think it's great for our fans, but whether it's a selfish answer or not, like I said, the on-track product has really been the No. 1 thing to me, so getting to this point, it's a dream come true to be able to win a championship.
Q. Obviously there's been a lot of change this year. You moved to Charlotte, you moved teams, you had three teammates instead of one or one and a half. How did all those elements, how did you deal with those elements, adapt to them and kind of grow this year in what was maybe your biggest year of change?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I would say so. I would agree it's been my biggest year of change. It's been my biggest opportunity. I've had so much to — I think live up to in that you have champions around you, you have guys pushing you every week that are making you get the most out of yourself and you have to match them. So it's given me the biggest opportunity to grow and to prove myself in that environment, and that's been fun. It's been really fun and challenging for me.
You know, having said that, I also had those opportunities in the past, as well. I feel like starting out as a one-car team and trying to figure things out myself was very beneficial to me. I think it's given me all my strength that I have in racing is that when I first started, you know what, it wasn't the best situation. I loved driving for SFHR and they did so much for me, but I'll be honest it wasn't the easiest situation. We had our backs against the wall a lot of times. We were a brand new team, it was a brand new car. We were a one-car team, so it was hard to go through those times with no previous setups, no information, no data to look at, no real thought process. You just had to formulate it yourself. And I think all those moments prepared me to get to this point with Team Penske and being able to sort it out with the best of the best.
You know, I guess what I'd like to express is extreme gratitude to everyone that's helped me up to this point but also my teammates this year because they've really been fantastic to work with, every single one of them. I know people think we're lying when we talk so goody-goody about each other, but we have a great working relationship, all four of us did, and it was an amazing season to learn and grow from those guys, and I can't thank them enough for what they've done for me.
Q. If you're this competitive, were you just a little bit ticked off you didn't win the race?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Oh, 100 percent. I'm not joking. I was kind of steaming inside the car, but then I thought, you know, the race win, as much as it'll piss me off that we lost the race, because it's a tough race, okay, you guys don't understand, this is probably the most grueling race you'll run every year just because of the tire degradation and the way this track drives, it is the most difficult race that you will put together, physically, mentally, it's draining. So when you feel like you've done everything to win the race and you don't win it, it's very annoying as a racer. So I hated that.
But I also just thought about the big picture, and you guys know Tim was coaching me through that thinking about it, and it's a team effort, so I had to be smart about it, and that gave me a lot more gratification, I think, than just losing the race.
Q. Did you expect to really reach this pinnacle of success so quickly in your career? You're 26, you've been through some tribulations, but you're at the top right now. How does it feel?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't know if you can ever predict it. Some guys hit their fortunes to be in this sport and it takes them 20 years to get where they want to be. Some guys it happens in a year or two. I didn't really know how it was going to work out for me. I hoped — I think as a racer, you always dream it happens sooner. It would have been cool to get a championship sooner than my sixth year, but I can't complain. I think everything that's happened in my career has made me who I am today. It's made me strong inside the race car and inside a race team. You know, with where we're at now, I'm just really thankful and really happy about it, and the biggest thing that I always want as a driver is just to get better every single season, and if you're continuing to go forward and we've won a championship, then that only means good things to come in the future.
Q. You're associating with Helio Castroneves and Will Power and other older drivers. Where do you see yourself in say another 10 or even 20 years from now?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't know. I mean, it's important not to get too ahead of yourself. I think we've got to be really proud of what we did this year. We've got to enjoy it. You have to — someone reminded me that you have to take time to enjoy these moments because it doesn't mean anything if you don't take the time to enjoy it and appreciate it.
We're going to do that for sure. But what the future holds, I don't think we can get ahead of ourselves. It takes a lot of work to do what we did this year, and I hope we're able to do it many, many times over. But it doesn't always work out that way, so we've got to be on our toes, make sure we're — I think aggressive but cautious at the same time, and I hope 10, 20 years down the road we've got many more championships and hopefully some Indy 500s along the way, too.
Q. When during the race did you realize, you said, I've got it?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: The final stint. Up to that point I was waiting for whatever was going to go wrong, and the final stint after I settled in with Pagenaud, I thought, you know, we've done everything we needed to do to be in position, and there's not a lot that can tilt it right now. Up until that point, I was like, man, what's going to happen. It's IndyCar racing, there's always something that can shift the platform and move you off your position, and when we were in that final stint, we had our final stop, we were fueled to the finished, I knew my fuel code that I had to hit. It was a big number, but I knew we could hit it every lap. I was like, okay, if we do our job here, we can make it happen, so probably 15 to go was when I started to feel more confident that we had what we needed.
It felt good, but I kept telling myself if it was 10 laps to go, I kept telling myself there was 15 laps to go. I just was playing it on the aggressive side because I didn't want to play it too safe. I just tried to make it seem longer than it was going to be.
Q. You got kind of choked up there at the end when you were talking about your folks helping you and so forth, and we've had an awful lot of IndyCar drivers and NASCAR and a lot of really good drivers come out of kart. Can you tell me how you got started and how your parents helped you and what made you think that was what you wanted to do once you were involved in karting and how did it go from there? Where did you start and what class?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I come from great parents to start with. I've got great, great people that guide me in life. I think me and my two sisters did. So that makes a world of a difference with whatever you're choosing to do in the world.
You know, what I'm getting at is we were given every opportunity that they could put in front of us. They wanted to help us pursue whatever we wanted. I played baseball and basketball when I was a kid. My dad, he selfishly wanted me to be a baseball player professionally in my life. He hoped that I'd become a New York Yankees player one day. I liked playing baseball like that, I liked basketball, too, but I always wanted a go-kart. I was like, Dad, please can we get a go-kart, and it didn't happen until I was 13. That's when he kind of finally caved.
My dad was always a car guy. He was always into racing. I was always exposed to it on TV. When we finally made a decision to go do that, you know, it's difficult for families to do. People ask me all the time, how do you get in racing, and it costs money. You've got to find someone to help you out, whether it's friends or families or if you somehow find a sponsor, you somehow convince someone to sponsor you. You've got to get the money from somewhere.
We had certainly a better situation than many, but not a straight-cut situation to just make it professionally in race cars. It was a long road and very difficult to go through. So they put everything on the line. They gave me everything they had. It got me to a certain point, and then others had to pitch in and make it happen. I started in, like I said, go-karts when I was 13, I raced at New Castle Motorsports Park right in New Castle, Indiana. It was a track built by Mark Dismore, who's an ex-IndyCar guy, and yeah, big karting family, and he taught me a lot about what I know today, and really the rest is history. I started there and I kept moving up the levels and had a lot of people help us along the way and put everything on the line for us to get to here.
Q. You said Penske's best of the best, everybody knows this, even race fans, and when you left carpenter racing to Penske, you know you're going to one of the top teams; nevertheless, what was your first reaction when you walked through the workshop, the most impressive thing you saw or you see in the workshop?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think the most impressive thing with Team Penske is they all work together. You know, when you're on race teams, generally the teams are divided. You know, everyone works together in a way, but if you're on the 2 car or you're on the 1 car or on the 12 car, those specific teams work together all year. At Team Penske they all work together. So on my 2 car specifically that I get to drive, when I go back to the shop, all those guys from all the cars are all mixed up. There's someone from every car is working on my car. So it's a complete team effort, which is really odd to see. I mean, I've never seen that anywhere else. I've never seen another team operate like that.
I thought that was the most impressive ingredient that they bring to the table. They really understand how to drive home the team aspect and everyone gets it and they get on board with it.
So for me, I think that's the difference maker.
Q. Being champion comes with responsibilities; how excited are you for that to go out and be the face of IndyCar? You're going to be on the front of the program, be on the front of the media guide. Is that starting to sink in yet?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: No. Look, I'll carry the flag happily. I love the IndyCar Series. I think it's got the whole world in front of it. It can go so many good ways. I'll do the best that I can to help spread the word and show people how great this sport is. I think people have been catching on to be honest with you over the last couple years. They're coming back to the sport. Anyone that we lost over the last 20 years, I think they've been coming back over the last five or six seasons, and we've got to make sure that we keep doing that. It's not one big step, it's going to be little steps at a time, and I think in the next five years hopefully we can be in an amazing place. I think we're in a good place right now, but we want to be in an amazing place. I'll do my best to carry that flag and help everyone in the Verizon IndyCar Series keep going up.
|Roger Penske cleaned house|
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with Mr. Penske and Mr. Cindric. If you could, let's start with Tim. Let's talk about bringing Josef into the team. You went to kind of a new dynamic, but it seemed to work almost from the get-go.
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, it obviously wasn't an easy decision when we decided that Josef was available, and Montoya had done a really good job for us along the way and we needed to make a decision if we were going to build for the future or what we were going to do, and we sat down and talked to Juan, and he said, Look, I don't like it, but if I was in your shoes I'd do the same thing; he's the guy that I would pick.
And honestly, we didn't really know what to expect other than we knew how competitive he was and knew that he'd won in everything that he had really raced in and felt like we needed to continue to build for the future, and if we weren't racing with him, we were probably going to race against him soon.
Q. The lap 65 after the pit stop the two cars came together, it got really racy there, and it sounded like you came over the radio and told Josef, don't lose sight of the championship here. How close was that to maybe ruining the whole day?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I think he knew where he needed to be, but fortunately he listened. But yeah, we intentionally honestly didn't push very hard in those in and out laps. I felt like had it been a normal race, it would have been probably a little bit different and a little bit more dicey because it wasn't going to hurt us for Simon to be the guy that won the race today. We were just trying to keep Josef focused more on finishing where we were because that's all we needed to do, and there really wasn't any need to push there, and we didn't push on the in laps or the out laps, and honestly I expected to come out just behind him, but honestly at that point in the race it was fine.
Q. Mr. Penske, when you look at Josef only being 26 years old, he's a guy you can clearly build with for the future, what does it mean to have a champion that's that young?
ROGER PENSKE: I think if you look at racing today across all of the disciplines, these drivers, these young people are coming up with lots of capabilities. You see it in NASCAR, we see it in our super car. There's no question that because they start early, we're going to see younger people come to the top, as Josef has, and I think I called him a journeyman where he started in go-karts, the family helped him, he went to Europe, came over here, won in Indy Lights, and he drove for Sarah for a couple years and then for Tony. He's got the perfect experience. He lives and sleeps racing. And I think we've been fortunate when we saw he was available — we're not used to running five cars in Indianapolis. That would be something we probably would say we'd never do, but on the other hand, I think as we saw the opportunity, and I don't think in business you always have the perfect time for something, I think it's the same thing in racing where it's a crew chief, a chief mechanic, a driver or even a sponsor, to try to have it come in like it is with him, and his commitment to the team — even though he had maybe a little dust-up with Josef (sic) in St. Louis, I think it made all these guys better because he's pushing, and obviously he knows that — he did not want to create an accident, but on the other hand, I think he's brought the interest within the team even more, and more important, I think he's got the respect now.
So I see these young guys coming in with the respect. He's certainly from a commercial perspective like the other guys have been great for our sponsors, and it was just something we had to say, hey, come on with us, we're ready to go, and he'll be a long-term player with us, hopefully like most of the drivers have.
Q. You had the driver of your car today, the 3 car, Helio came in here terrific again. He's 20 years almost all with you, and it's been — whatever happens, it's been just an unbelievable ride for that young man.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I've been on his car now, I don't know if it's been 20 years, but it seems like it has. It's been terrific. He's the class of the field in the trailer with our guys, and you can see him whether he's up or he's down, he's always up, and I think that's been key, and he's going to be a long-term player with us on the team as we go forward.
Q. What about Helio, just the ride you get with Helio? It's a ride.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I mean, he is just — he's always smiling. He's always saying, how can I help you. There's never a time when we call him that he doesn't say, I'm there, I'll do it. He's just a different sort of an athlete and one that he's got a lot of respect in the garage area, too, which I think is important, and certainly within the team. He's helped us build it — three of our Indy 500s came off his back, so you have to say that's amazing just in itself.
Q. Roger and Tim, do you see this as maybe being a pivot point in the sport to where this is now the emergence of guys like Josef Newgarden or Alexander Rossi at Andretti Autosport, that we're now starting to see what the next group of big-time stars are going to be in this series?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, look, it's so difficult for these young guys in many cases to get a good ride, but I think the fact that they've driven a lot of these courses in Indy Lights, some of them have done some sports car racing, and the fact that the quality — if I look up and down the pit lane and you look at qualification, there's maybe three or four or five tenths difference almost between the whole field most of the races this year. The quality of the drivers coming up, we want to see that, and we have to be the catalyst to go out and look for this young talent because we don't want to be changing drivers every year. That's one of the benefits, I think, when we go to Indianapolis, we probably have 600 years of experience in our garage, and that continuity, that low turnover makes it. So we need to hook ourselves into these young people, and I think you're going to see a lot of them.
There's people out there — certainly Michael has done an outstanding job. He was a great driver. He gets it. The Andretti name is important to the sport, important to us, and one of the first guys that came up to me today to congratulate me was Michael and Ganassi.
We race each other like hell on the track, but we also respect the fact that we're glad each one of us is in the sport because it helps to keep it where it is.
TIM CINDRIC: I obviously echo what Roger said and can't say it better except I think it's all of our responsibility to continue to promote the next level because it's not just on the racetrack. These personalities are the ones that everybody needs to see and understand, and you see the same type of thing happening in NASCAR right now where a lot of the big names, you look at Dale Jr. and some of these guys going away and retiring, and already there's already these guys that are coming up, the Kyle Larsons and the Ryan Blaneys and the Chase Elliotts of the world. That's what IndyCar needs to continue to focus on, too.
TIM CINDRIC: Without a doubt. We need to figure out ways off the racetrack to continue to build these personalities because they're there. We just need to get the word out.
Q. Tim, another young guy, Brian Campe, comes in here and does a terrific job, as well.
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, without a doubt. Brian came to us originally from the NASCAR program. He had worked for us as a NASCAR engineer. He was part of Brad Keselowski's team both on the Cup side and the Nationwide side at the time, and it was a cross-pollination of, hey, let's go IndyCar racing, and he came in and engineered Montoya for a couple years and figured out what IndyCar racing was all about, and now he's sitting there as a championship race engineer. He's been able to be part of an Indy 500 win and a championship now, which is really cool.
Q. Mr. Penske, with only — even though Josef has only driven for you for one season, he's delivered a championship. Where do you see some similarities in him of guys that are legends in your organization like a Mark Donohue or a Rick Mears?
ROGER PENSKE: Boy, that's — I've had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don't have a favorite. I think that I always look at Mears as one of the drivers who made such a difference with us going all the way back. You know, he knocked on the door and was really — had never really had a lot of success, and he created a tremendous momentum within our race organization. And I think that's exactly what Josef is doing because of his intensity.
Mears was someone that also we talked about it, his credibility within the garage area was something, and I think that — I look at him, and he's also probably an unsung hero here tonight or today because he's the one that sits down with Josef and sat down with Simon and even Montoya and Power and they talk about what's going on on the racetrack, and he gives them his insight. He's pretty much connected to all these, so I'd have to say he's pretty special.
I think that Josef is kind of a student but also I think he's got Mears in his ear, and that's important.
To me, I can't compare him to anyone exactly. He's an American, which is special in this sport, because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world, and to see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting, and I think that Rahal has done a great job, and you see some of the other drivers out there.
It's going to be interesting as we go forward. And there will be some new names and new faces.
Q. About those new names and new faces, beautiful day here in Sonoma, a race to the finish. Can you talk a little bit about the future of IndyCar? Everything seems to be at least angling in the right direction.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, there's no question that I think the quality — I said earlier, the quality of the teams, the sponsors, I know they're tough to get, but when you look at the cars and the names, there's Fortune 500 names on the sides of a lot of these cars, which is very important. And one of the things that I think Mark Miles and the teams have done, and Jay, we're keeping these costs in line, which is important to us, and we're not changing rules and all of a sudden put a lot of burden on the teams, and I think that's important.
I'm seeing the attendance go up. I know that we have more people calling us wanting to get involved with the sport than we've ever had, and I know from my own, I guess, business space and our employees, there's more interest today with social media and the connection and speed has made a big difference. We're not NASCAR, we're IndyCar racing, and there's only one race in the world like Indianapolis, and as long as we put our arms around the Indianapolis 500 and have the ability to go and come back each year, we've got a great series, and I think the media is starting to pick that up. I think the television commentary has been good. I think Tracy and some of the people that are up there today are pros. They've been in it. They've been knocked around a little bit and they've had success, and I think that makes a big difference. TV is good, the social media. The tracks — one of the things I like about it, we're coming back to the same tracks in most cases, so what I call date equity, so you can count on the IndyCars being back here at this time next year, if we're going to go to Detroit or we're going to go to St. Petersburg or these different tracks, going to Toronto, that makes a big difference, and that's how NASCAR built its strength, because they had that fan base, and we need to grow that base geographically in areas that will support the track and also the teams.
To me, I see it on a very upward motion today, and we're going to do everything we can in order to support that from a Team Penske perspective. I think the drivers, they sit out here and sign autographs. How many other sports do that, sit out before a big game and start signing autographs? Those are things that today maybe we take it for granted, but that's a big step forward in communication with the fan base.
Q. Talking about the product on the racetrack, any opinions about how different the car next year will change the look of IndyCar on the track as far as quality of racing?
ROGER PENSKE: We don't know. There's people say that one aero kit is better than the other. Someone says one engine is better than the other. Well, next year we're going to find out because the good news is we're going to have a brand new car utilizing probably 75 percent of what we already have, so it's going to be the body work and aerodynamics. The cars will look different. It'll be exciting, and we're all going to — there will be no excuses on who's got a better wing or doesn't have it. It's going to be the same, and I think that's going to be quite positive. Then it's up to team strategy, it's up to the quality of the drivers and certainly the way they conduct themselves on the racetrack. So Tim, you might want to comment. You've seen the cars, and what's your thoughts?
TIM CINDRIC: I think the testing — especially on the ovals, it'll help with the car back in the drivers' hands, and I think whenever that happens, the cream rises to the top. We've seen that maybe we're too much on a string at some of these tracks and have a difficult time passing at tracks that we've had great races at. We've had great races at Phoenix in the past, we've had great races at some of these other venues, and as you continue to put the racing back in the drivers' hands, and I think the key to that, and Mears will tell you, if they can save it, you've almost got it right. If it steps out and you can't save it, then the racing is probably not going to be very good.
I think that what we've seen so far, depending on what the final specifications are for the different tracks, is that hopefully these cars will put the driver back in the place to where they can pass each other, especially on the ovals, and if we can make — any time you can make the braking section longer at the road courses, you have more passing. Anything there I think is more exciting, and yeah, I think they're going the right direction, it's just a matter of taking the right steps at the right time and not — and having a good balance with what the costs are versus spec because at the end of the day, IndyCar racing is something that you want to be in a place to make a bad decision because if you don't have to make any decisions before you go to the racetrack, then I would say that the racing is probably not going to be that good. But if you have an opportunity to make a bad decision, then some guys make it bad, some guys make it good, and you end up with passing, so that's what we need to have.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined in the press conference room by race winner Simon Pagenaud, who literally did just about everything you could do today except maybe lead the most laps. I don't know that you got that part accomplished but you did just about everything else you could do and it just came up short for the championship. So is it bittersweet?
SIMON PAGENAUD: You know, at the end of the day, I think what is important to me is to perform at your best in those conditions. I think to me, the final champion is someone that can bring his A game or extra A game on a given time. I thought we did just that today as a team, myself as a driver, my engineer, my strategist, my guys, my crew in the pit stops. I think we did just that.
And to me, when I look at Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and all these guys that really — obviously those guys are Formula 1 drivers, but think about some IndyCar drivers, Franchitti, these guys, when you think about these guys that have really marked the sport, the sport in general, Motorsports, I think today was one of those days for us.
It was very special to me. Of course we're not champions, we came up short by 13 points after a whole season. Am I satisfied? No, because I want to win, but we gave everything we had.
For me to finish 13 points behind in a season where we had a lot of downs, not as many ups compared to last year, I think it's quite impressive. Very happy with that.
THE MODERATOR: I don't know if these were the most difficult 85 laps of your career, but they were pretty intense from start to finish given that you were on an all-go strategy.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes. Last night my engineer texted me when I was at the Verizon dinner, and he said, We're going to do four stops. I'm like, what? Four stops never worked here; why would we do four stops? He said, well, if there's a yellow, that's the best way we can win the championship. I'm like, all right, that makes sense, but it's a long shot. If it doesn't work out, we're going to end up fifth or sixth in the championship, it's not going to look too good. But I was in a very attacking mode, attacking mood this weekend, and I thought, hey, why not, let's try. And he convinced me.
Then, you know, it was — I was really surprised on the second stint how strong we were compared to everybody. We were able to pass a lot of cars and made some very aggressive passes, and it was starting to really work.
When I built a gap on Josef, 10 seconds, and then 11 and then 12, I was like, ooh, I think we have a chance. So then I thought, if we keep putting pressure, maybe something would happen. The strategy worked out really, really well. It was impressive. The car was just phenomenal all day. Grueling, tiring, and I'm exhausted right now. That's the most I've ever pushed in an IndyCar race.
THE MODERATOR: I think that was lap 65 when you came out in front of Josef. Talk about that one, how you stayed in front of him.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it was tough, especially on the black tires. I was thinking about it before the pit stop. I was like, man, I'm going to come out on blacks and he's going on reds. It's going to be close. The in lap the tires were really starting to get used up and starting to have a lot of oversteer out of 7, was using some Push-to-Pass, and the rear end was really coming around a lot, and I was like, man, I don't know if it's going to be enough. Then when we did it, I was like, okay, now I've got to really be smart about how I'm going to handle this, so I came out of the pit as hard as I could, took all the risks in the world, and tires came up really quick because I was so aggressive.
After Turn 7, I knew I could keep it, so then — the nice thing is today I could be on the aggressive side and Josef had to be a little bit more on the defensive side, so I also took advantage of that.
Q. Racers are going to race, but on that lap 65, were you surprised how fierce Josef was, because basically he finishes behind you, he wins the title?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, I was. When I blocked Turn 7 and I saw him diving, I'm like, dude, be careful. Especially at the time, the thing is if he has a problem, I'm leading the race, I'm champion, so at the time we're racing, obviously I knew, I could see on the sign Dixon was fifth, so I knew we couldn't do anything stupid for the championship. But it was more comfortable for me than it was for him, I'm assuming, in my position. Yeah, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fight. It was a good fight. I thought that my out lap was outstanding for sure.
Q. I wanted you to address the consistency that you've had not only with the team, it's a great team, obviously, but you were on the track for every lap this season. The only driver to do that. And you were also coming off the championship and right in contention right until the very end, which the champion hasn't always done in recent years. Talk about how you feel about those accomplishments.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I'm very proud tonight. I'm very proud. I'm also superstitious, so 13 points behind is probably a good thing for next year. I like that number, so we'll see. But I'm very proud of my guys. Mechanically we had zero problems this year, no mechanical issues. Chevy has been incredible in terms of reliability. Also my team, we never had an issue during the race, barely any — I don't think we had any problems in the pits at all. I didn't make any stupid mistakes, didn't break a wing, didn't have any contact at any point. So we finished every single lap of the season, which I don't know the stats, but that's insane, I think, and I'm very, very proud of that.
That's kind of my trait as a driver is I don't go off track very often, and I think this season maybe we didn't have the outright pace at every race, but at least we had consistency, and we see it pays off.
Q. Considering how you finished just 13 points behind Josef in the championship, if you look back at Gateway now, do you consider that as the crucial turning point of the title battle?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, my first start was before the podium was actually Texas when I feel like I could have won the race, but I just sat behind Will and tried to work as a team and tried to finish the race together as the race was getting crazy. So it was a smart drive, but maybe I should have been more aggressive to collect more points. That's really my first thought.
Then Gateway, that's racing. You know, Josef managed to get it done. I don't know what it is I could have done in that situation, so you can't — I mean, I just can't go back on that and be disappointed. I think I did the best I could, the best I could pretty much all season. I don't have any regrets, no.
Q. You and Josef have had an interesting relationship; you were both with another manufacturer, you both came to Team Penske, now you've both won championships for Team Penske. Did his arrival on the team change how you raced this year or did you have a different dynamic between yourselves this year?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, the first thing when a new driver comes on is understand how he works and how to integrate him within the group. The group was very dynamic, it was Juan Pablo, Helio and Will, and now we had Josef coming on board. Completely different character than Montoya. Actually Josef is really — he integrates himself really easily, and he's a really smart — you guys say he's a kid, but he's really smart. It's quite impressive what he can be doing at 25.
It's been really easy. He's been bringing quite an interesting vision about what he likes, and congratulations to him.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined here by Mr. Penske and Mr. Cindric. Let's first just talk about Simon and the way he ran the race and how your guys worked together today.
ROGER PENSKE: I think what you didn't know is that probably two hours before the race, the drivers, we sat down, Tim and I sat down with the drivers and we talked about all the scenarios that could take place. You've been here before when there's a yellow that comes out that mixes up the field, and Simon put his hand up and said, I'll be the guy, I'll commit to come in on lap 10. And of course we take that for granted, and certainly it's lap 10 they came in, and I think that just shows you because we needed Will to be a wing man for the 2 car, for Josef, and for Helio, we had to deal with Dixon behind us. I think it was well thought out, and fortunately things went our way.
Simon came to the team, and first year he didn't maybe have the success he wanted, but he doubled down last year, and the number of wins, the number of poles, and you could see the speeded here this weekend. To me, we talk about the different team members and the drivers, I think each one of them pushes each other, and with Josef coming on board, he's aggressive, but also I think he learned a lot from Simon and Helio and certainly from Will, and I think that was the stack of information that we keep getting every weekend.
There's not a pit time we come in the pits that Helio doesn't ask what are the other guys doing, where are they braking, where are they getting back on the gas. I know Simon is the same way. So having the luxury to have the four drivers and the way we communicate makes a big difference, and as I always say, I don't have a favorite driver. Look at it today, it would have been nice to see Josef win the race, but quite honestly this is the perfect ending to a great season and a new sponsor, someone that we wanted to be in the sport for a long time, and I know Simon was this close.
To me, he knows as we know only one guy can win the championship and win the race, and today we had three people up front there on the podium. You think about the last race, the championship, I'd have to say that Tim and the team have done a terrific job.
THE MODERATOR: You've had three champions, three different drivers in the last four years, and this continues it, and the way Simon presented himself as a champion over the last year.
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, without a doubt. Simon, he showed everybody the way last year, and these guys, having four of them that are all competing for the win, some days we have to talk about it afterwards, all of us, not just Simon, all of us. So yeah, there was a lot at stake today, a lot can go right, a lot can go wrong, but what I'm proud of is the team that we have at the end of the day. We've been here and been on the other end of it, and I think that today fortunately it was a green race because that helped us figure out where we needed to be and how we needed to be there, but what I didn't want is Simon and Josef fighting each other too hard and maybe got a little too close there. But for us the perfect scenario played out to where Simon could win the race and finish second in the championship and Josef get what he deserved there.
Q. What is it that you liked most about being champion, and what are you going to miss about not being champion?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I mean, I want to win. I don't want to be second. But you know, it's IndyCar racing. It's very difficult to repeat because the competition is so fierce. But you know, I think I'm very proud of how we conducted ourselves this year. I think Team Penske did a tremendous job. Chevrolet, as well. Overall, the best man won, and Josef did.
On the whole season, he was the strongest. I miss being the strongest, and I will come back next year, and I'm going to try to be the best. I think that's competition. You know, that's how it goes.
Q. Simon, what would you list as your number one accomplishment of this season? Is there any particular high moment?
SIMON PAGENAUD: This weekend, yes. I think for me, like I said earlier, when you have to be on top of your game in a very pressured moment, those are my favorite times, favorite moments. Being able to accomplish that for me is a very special thing, so I'm very proud of that, very proud of my team in general, no mistakes, perfect decisions. It was a flawless weekend for us. Just very proud that the whole team did such a good job, and also talking with my team, but also the whole organization, when you look at it, it was a flawless operation today.
You know, I think when you walk away from here, it's just what you take away and what you enjoy the most.
Q. Simon, you did say that your strategy would probably — with four stops, work if there was a yellow, but it seems like maybe race control tried to avoid upsetting the championship, shall we say, but having an unlucky yellow for someone? Do you think that's the case? Did they say anything in the drivers' meeting?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I don't know. I really don't know. I couldn't answer that question. I think there was no reason for a yellow today anyway. There was no incidents, so I don't know quite frankly. I think everything went smoothly.
Q. You missed Turn 9 a couple times; what was going on there?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Spectacle, yeah. I was trying to make it like exciting for the fans and you, as well. Nothing really. I miss that driving, so I thought it would be fun.
Q. You said Gateway was a racing deal. Has it been easier to let go of that in the last couple weeks or have you been thinking about it?
SIMON PAGENAUD: No, it's behind, and you've got to move on anyways. If you live in the past, you're not going to improve yourself. Whatever happened there happened. I think Josef obviously won the championship, and that move was critical to his championship. Hat off to him. Next time I've got to be better. That's it.
Q. Simon, you just called Josef a kid a couple minutes ago, not so much race experience. Nevertheless, is there something you learn from a younger driver without as much experience?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, of course. Obviously like Roger said earlier, he's got a level — he's aggressive. He's an aggressive driver, but he makes it work. I'm not that kind of driver, so maybe I need to step up my aggressive level. That's the kind of things you learn. Also it's good to have young blood coming in. It pushes you further, pushes your limits away, and he's a very smart young man, so obviously you're always learning, and if you think you're not learning, it's probably time to quit. I'm going to keep looking and learning from him and other drivers.
Q. You've won back-to-back here at Sonoma, and I know it's a challenging race course. Tell me about what your strengths are and how you're able to master some of the challenges this track throws at you.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think I've got a fantastic car. That really helps. Yeah, Team Penske has been so strong here for many years. I think maybe it's the philosophy of our setups in general, but also just pushing each other as drivers to find the limits and work on details. I think that's key. Today was my strategist and the decision that we made as a team to have me do four stops, and I'm in that position because I think it paid off today because I was comfortable in the race car and I could go really hard on long stints. Those are my answers.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Simon.
THE MODERATOR: We're here in the media center with Will Power. Not the ending that you hoped for, but a Penske podium and a Penske championship.
WILL POWER: Yeah, boring day for me. That's exactly what the team needed, no yellows or anything, just kind of shadowed Josef to try to keep a buffer between him and Dixon, and yeah, obviously you can't have four DNFs in a year and be up there in the championship. We won enough races and poles and we led some good laps, but just really didn't — yeah, just too many DNFs, too many.
THE MODERATOR: How do you help celebrate a championship when you're disappointed personally?
WILL POWER: I'm not — it was pretty obvious a couple races ago that we were in trouble after Gateway, so yeah, I mean, it's great for the team. Obviously you want to be the one that wins it, but it's very tough these days, and you've got to have a very solid year to get it done, and when I look at this year, no one made mistakes. You see the top six there, top six or seven are the top six or seven almost every race.
THE MODERATOR: Simon's team made the decision to go with four stops. Did you know they were going to go with four stops?
WILL POWER: Yeah, they were going to put one car off strategy. I was going to do whatever Josef did, and Helio was kind of — I don't know what he was doing, but he obviously had the captain on his stand. Their plan was probably to try and win the race. But yeah, yeah, that was my position in the championship and within the team. Just going to shadow him all day unless something happened to Dixon.
Q. It was a big year for you. I saw your baby come by a little while ago. Sum up the season; can you kind of take us through the year and how it's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster?
WILL POWER: Yeah, definitely a roller coaster season. I just never quite got on a run, never — I think back to the ones that hurt, and it's failure at St. Pete and we're leading at Barber, that's a huge points swing for me right there that would have put me right in contention here, but getting the puncture. So there were a couple.
But yeah, just up and down all year, up and down. It was amazing. It was amazing to have like a front wing failure in a race, go let down, come back and win it. That was probably the highlight of the year right there. Yeah, and winning two ovals this season was fantastic.
Q. Was the crew swap planned, or was that kind of just a random kind of last-minute thing that came up?
WILL POWER: It's probably something they were thinking of, the team. Basically just assemble the pit stop competition winners from Indy, which is understandable. They needed to make sure they had the absolute best possible chance, had everyone come in under yellow, the best chance to have Josef get out first.
Q. Were you surprised there were no yellows? Going into the race everybody was saying how hard it was going to be, tire degradation, et cetera.
WILL POWER: No, it was very similar to last year because you just can't even get close with this car. It's just — like next year will be much different. I think you'll start seeing a little more yellows in races because you can race so much closer. Next year's car is going to be a lot easier to follow.
WILL POWER: Yes, that's what happens. If you think you remember the racing from 2012 up until this body kit, you made big dive bomb moves and more yellows and a lot better racing that will come back. It's kind of sad to see these aero kits go because you'll never see a car like it again and you'll never see a car with that much downforce and grip and speed ever again. I think that was the most downforce any car ever had.
Q. You've been a champion; what advice do you have for Josef, and what's he in for?
WILL POWER: No advice, just enjoy it. Enjoy it. Enjoy it. It's a fantastic time. Fantastic off-season, and yeah, great feeling.
THE MODERATOR: Well, it wasn't the day that you wanted; did you have really good feelings coming into today?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, of course. Every time I come to a car, a race car, I never think it's going to be — I'm going to be second or third, especially with the red tires when my teammates had blacks. I thought it was a good opportunity to go and try to pass. I got one, but Josef and Will — Will did a good job in getting up to speed with the blacks. So I wasn't able to make a move, and all of a sudden since I was in a strategy to do three stops, I had to right away stop the attack mode and start saving fuel so that we could finish.
So that's the time I was like, all right, maybe something could help us here. But they were able to stay on point. We were able to stay there with the red tires. Obviously we had the new reds. I think Scott and the other guys, the people behind us, they had used reds. Not much we could have done. But I thought it was tough, especially towards the end with the used reds. It was really difficult to hold on and save fuel at the same time. That was most of the things.
We had a little more, but saving fuel was the hardest thing.
THE MODERATOR: How did the team decide that Simon's car was going to be the one to go on a four-stop strategy and maybe not somebody else's?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, we work together. We talk about it. The only thing we didn't talk about was the tire situation. We got — the group No. 3 surprise, but we decided, and I last year did that strategy and it did not work, so I said, I don't want to be that guinea pig again and do the same thing. I want to change.
And unfortunately only him did. I don't know if in the back people did that, as well. For us, it didn't work. For him, he did a good job keeping the pace and work it out. Kudos for him, for everyone — how did the championship finish, by the way? I still don't know.
THE MODERATOR: You're fourth.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: But second?
THE MODERATOR: Simon got second.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: All right, so yeah, good job for him. He did a great job pushing everything he could to get in that position. Yeah, it was a difficult, but top 5 again, not bad.
THE MODERATOR: Were you close on fuel at the end?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty much, yeah. We finished with like zero, nothing else.
Q. You said last year the strategy didn't work for you; when you saw it was maybe your team or your engineer that it was successful for Simon, could you adopt to a new strategy during the race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, last year the middle of the run, that's what we did, and I guess that's probably why it didn't work last year, and this year they committed early doing that strategy and it worked pretty well for them. That probably was the difference. But in the end if we would have changed again probably would have ended up with the same strategy as last year, and that would have been a disaster.
Q. When you look at this year, another top 5 finishing in points. Do you look at this moment or the fact that you were still in championship contention?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, obviously I'm always going to focus on the positive thing. I'm not going to focus on the Texas that we had a problem or other races that I missed strategy or me making mistakes. You've got to think about, again, it was another season that we pushed as hard as we could and another top 4. And again, sometimes it's funny because you see the statistics, finished second — I finished second four times. But it was more times — the P4 is not what it represents because we were in a battle a lot more years than that. And that's what I look. I look because each year that's what kept me motivated to come back and push hard, and that for me was — I would say it's hard — sometimes it's — well, I try, but to get one — it's easy to follow from that position, but to keep up like I've been doing all these years, I think it's the hardest thing to do. But it doesn't come with just it happens. It comes with a great team. It comes with great dedication from your guys, great trust, and obviously myself to keep motivating, finding ways to keep pushing and having teammates like I have today, no question, helped me to become a better driver.
Q. Of all the drivers on the team, Roger could pick any one of the four, but he has you as his driver and he's the strategist. Can you talk about what that's been like for you the last couple years?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, Roger is the boss, so definitely you have to feel proud that when he ends up getting to your car, calling your race — and I always actually want to see when that would happen. When I started racing at Team Penske, he was the chosen one, and then Sam was another one, Briscoe was another one. I'm like, man, what am I doing wrong here. But I guess finally when the time came, Roger said, okay. It was natural. I obviously always want him, and I guess it turned out to be a natural way to have us working together. No question, I learned so much over these four or five years that we've been working as the strategist, and he really motivates you. He really gives you the information, and sometimes we take a chance.
He's the best guy to take chances because he's the boss. If something goes wrong, hey, he knows what we did. It's been an amazing, obviously, journey to work with Roger and Cindric and all the boys.
Q. Your future uncertain, and you just talk about motivation, where do you feel like you are as a race car driver now in your career?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I feel that I'm in the prime. I feel that I have more fuel to burn than ever, more Shell-Pennzoil fuel to burn, let me clarify that. I still have a lot.
Now, you know, whatever happens in the future, sometimes you can use that in different ways, and something that I learned in the past. Sometimes we've got to dance according to the music. But at this point we're definitely going to announce — I feel whatever it's going to be, if it's moving on or not, I'm going to continue to motivate and keep working hard to achieve my goals, which is winning races.
Q. You said Roger is the boss and you feel honored that he's your race strategist. Were there moments in races where you had a different opinion than him?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, many times. I'm asking for reds and they give me blacks. What are you going to do? They have the tires out there, I cannot stop the car and change myself. And there was times that when he called me in, I was like, nope, I'm not coming, and it did not work very well, by the way. But I feel that we work together, but he does listen, and not only just because he's the team owner, doesn't mean we have to do what he wants to do. You know, that goes to not only myself but to the engineers, as well, that also run the car.
Jonathan, phenomenal guy. Wow, I couldn't be happier to have the group of engineers that we have. And again, finishing 1, 2, 4th, 5th, it shows that we definitely work well together.
THE MODERATOR: I think I speak for all of us, and you are one of our champions.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thanks, man. That's nice, thank you.