IndyCar Pocono 500 Sunday Press Conference

From left, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay and Montoya
From left, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay and Montoya

An interview with:
1st RYAN HUNTER-REAY, Andretti Autosport
2nd JOSEF NEWGARDEN, CFH Racing
3rd JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Team Penske

THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with our post-race press conference. We're joined by the race runner-up, Josef Newgarden. Josef, you led a lot of laps today, came home second. Talk about your day.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It was a good day for us. We had a good race car. Really happy with finishing in the top three, that was great. Just really thinking about Justin (Wilson), to be honest. I haven't heard anything on him. He was obviously involved in that last wreck of the day. Just hoping to get some news, to be honest with you, and hopefully soon. Hopefully it's good news and everything's rosy. We had a good day, but like I said, just thinking about Justin.

THE MODERATOR: You're one of six drivers still eligible for the title. Talk about your chances heading to Sonoma.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, we're probably not a dark horse but like a super dark horse. I doubt it's going to materialize. I think Montoya would have to not show up and we would have to win basically. It's probably not that bad but we're a far-out shot.

Hopefully we can get inside the top five or top three in points. I think that would be a really good goal for us. I think the title is kind of out of reach. We can show really well. We can win another race, perform well for the year, and then go on to next year and try to be a little more consistent and win the title then.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Josef Newgarden.

Q: Josef, I want to go back to the one restart where it was seven wide. What was going through your mind when you saw that?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I didn't see the seven part. I heard it was five. If it was seven, that's even crazier. I think that's got to be a new record here for us.

But, you know, if you wanted a good race today, I don't think you were going to be able to produce a better one than that. It was a pretty incredible showing.

It's been like that all year with IndyCar. We've just had incredible races. It was hair-raising. Every restart was hair-raising, but I also loved every restart because I felt we were going to capitalize and go to the front every time.

We did that for the most part. We had a really good car once we dialed it in midway through the race. We got better in traffic. We were able to show that at the end. A big thank you to my team for sticking with me and trying to get me what I wanted out of the car and I think we found it there at the end.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q: Last couple years we've been here at Pocono, we had quick races, pretty much caution-free. Then we had today. Do you think the placement later in the season with only one more race to go after today has added to this frenzy that we saw? It was a war of attrition.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Perhaps. I think that's a good point. That's probably one variable. There's a lot of guys trying to make up for the end of the year. I don't think people were necessarily trying to wreck. But it breeds it when you're trying to go for points and you're trying to win a championship and the door's still wide open.

But I think a lot of it, too, it was a very racy race. Most of it was really good and clean. We had some stretches of the race where there were no cautions and it was good. But it got real racy at a lot of points. I think that's probably what bred all the tight corners, people getting in the walls, messing up.

This new aero package, the way IndyCar runs, you can't beat the competition. It's just the most amazing competition between teams, drivers, performance, manufacturers. I think that's what you want as fans and I think that's what you're getting right now.

Q: Just watching on the restart in general, it looked for me very dangerous. How did it look from the cockpit?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't know. It felt pretty normal to me, to be honest. You don't get the perspective of TV. I'm sure it looked a lot crazier on TV. I wasn't in half of the race at Fontana, and it was gnarly looking. You were holding on to the edge of your seat every time they would go from a restart. I'm sure that's what it looked like here, too.

Inside the car it felt like normal Indy car racing. Indy cars race close. That's what it's all about. That's what it's always been about. It felt very normal inside the car to me. I had a fun time going into each restart because I felt I could make something happen from pretty far back.

Q: Josef, you're fairly tall. Justin is the tallest driver in the series. When you're that tall in the seat, do you sometimes feel a little at risk from debris and things like that? What would you like to see done to prevent that?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Look, first off, this is Indy car racing. It's the nature of motorsports. Things are going to happen. I don't know anything about Justin's wreck. I have no idea, so I can't comment on it.

As far as the height, honestly to me there's no difference. They make a regulation for how tall you can be inside the car sitting compared to the roll hoop. It's safe for any height for any driver that gets in the car. There's a regulation for how tall you can be in there.

I don't feel any more exposed than any other driver in the car. This is Indy car racing. They make it as safe as they can. We're at the forefront of technology. The height thing to me is probably a non-issue in my opinion.

Q: Josef, getting back to the question about racing today. Last couple years were processional, dominated by strategy and fuel mileage. Today with the aero kits, did that make the show? Was that a contributing factor today?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Oh, 100 percent. People were able to, compared to last year, bunch up a little bit.

Q: A little?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, a lot. You see people snaking down the straightaways because we're all together for the most part. So it's 100 percent related to how the cars draft and how they race in close quarters.

You've seen it all year. Even on the road courses, we've had some of the most unbelievably close racing we've seen ever. At Barber Motorsports Park, for instance, we had a record number of passes. That's a tight, twisty, difficult place to pass. You've seen it everywhere with the aero kits.

Here is no different. I think the nature of the kit, the way we drive around here now, it created a close, tight, really exciting battle.

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the third-place finisher in today race, Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske. You maintained your record of finishing in the top 10 of every 500-mile race you've ever been in. Talk about today.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It was good. Our Verizon Chevy was strong all day. We ran a smart race. It's tough, you know. Sometimes you're racing somebody and you get all excited and you kind of forget why you're here and what you need to be doing, that it's a 500-mile race.

I gained places where I could gain places. Then when I couldn't, I was like, “OK, let's save some fuel." I think that really helped one of the stops right before the caution. It was really good.

It's what it is. We executed well all day. I felt we had a car to win the race. It was really, really quick. I felt I needed to be smart about it.

THE MODERATOR: You take a 34-point lead unofficially over Graham Rahal to Sonoma. Your approach to next week's race.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Same thing as every week: Go out there and do the best we can, see what happens. It's double points, so it's open for anything. I feel if we run a smart day all day, we'll be fine.

THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.

Q: For both of you, I'm sure you'll watch this race within the next week or so. Are you aware that at one time you had seven wide coming down the front straightaway?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I was in it.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I didn't realize it was that wide.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Four wide, five wide, then Takuma (Sato) got inside of me. My spotter didn't even know what to say.

I don't watch the races, to be honest. Like this year, sometimes I'll watch, like, I think Friday night I'll watch this race just to see the restarts, see what happens. But that's it. I'm too busy pedaling.

Q: Juan Pablo, the last couple years we've had no cautions for these races. They've been super quick. Then today…

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, I had a flight today and I missed my flight. Thank you, yeah (laughter).

Q: Do you think it's because of the placement in the schedule with it being one to go after this?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No. I think the aero kit just brings a lot closer racing. To be honest with you, a lot of these guys here are not used to oval racing. They're not used to the give-and-take. They don't understand the give-and-take.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Yesterday even in practice, (Tristan) Vautier nearly crashed into me. I got a run on him into Turn 3, I was next to him, half a car inside of him, he just turned down like I wasn't there. I went and confronted him.

He said, “What am I supposed to do? If I go straight, I'll go off, so I turned." I said, “But if I'm there…"

“But I felt I got really loose."

“Yeah, because you were bouncing into me."

“Next time when somebody gets a run and gets inside of you, get off the gas and get behind."

The young kids, they don't understand it. They race lap five like it's the last two laps of the race and they're going for a win, when they're running 18th. It's amazing. That causes a lot of the crashes.

We're going way too fast. Like Turn 1 is bumpy as hell. You go in there, one lap he turns, the next lap he pushes. You're behind one car, you're good, if you're behind two cars, that thing doesn't turn. It's tough. Nobody wants to back off. But that happens.

I thought the race was pretty cool.

Q: Having said that, do you find it highly ironic that it was Tristan Vautier that ran into Graham Rahal and took him out of the race?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's racing. It's ironic. They talked to him and everything.

To be honest with you, it's what it is. Graham hadn't really had any really big issues, maybe not great races, but he never got into trouble with anything. We had our suspension failed in Iowa and lost a lot of points. We got screwed by (Sage) Karam in Mid-Ohio. It's what it is. We came here and did what we needed to do. Graham is young, he's good. But, I mean, you learn.

Q: (No microphone.)

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: We put a little bit more downforce, just a tick. A lot of it was more adjusting the front wing. We made a lot of changes today to the car from what we had yesterday.

We knew we were going to have to add front wing. But it's always better to have to add front wing than go out there and can't drive it because it's too fricking loose.

We ran a smart race. To be honest with you, I did everything I needed to do.

Q: You said it was a pretty exciting race. Do you want to see the series come back here next year? This was the last year of a three-year contract.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I mean, if people come here and watch the NASCAR race, that single-file parade for 400 miles, or you want to see this, you know what I mean? I think it's a pretty easy call from the track whether they want us back or not, you know what I mean? I have no control over it.

I think it was great racing. It was a fun place. A lot of people showed up today. That is good. I'll tell you the truth. If we come back next year after what we did today, you're going to fill it up. You're going to have more and more people. I keep telling people, IndyCar is in the up, in the up big-time.

I tell you, when I went to Mid-Ohio on Saturday afternoon, when my kids went around, I couldn't believe how many people were there. It was a Saturday and Sunday and it was packed. It was like '99 and 2000. That place was packed. That's cool to see.

I think going to Road America is going to be great for us, Boston. We keep putting on awesome races and people get excited about it.

Q: Even though it might seem trivial in light of everything that happened with Justin…

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: What happened to Justin? I don't know. I know he got hit, but I have no information.

Q: As far as the 34-point lead going into a double points race, what do you feel you need to do?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Do what we do: have a good race and that's it. We know like Graham didn't really have that stellar car in Mid-Ohio. We think we should have a strong car there. Last year there we finished fifth. Hopefully we can qualify better. We opened some more points on Dixon. I think that's important. That's it.

We'll do what we can. Kind of sucks going into a doubleheader on a road course, but that's what it is.

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the winner of today's race, Ryan Hunter-Reay. It's Ryan's second win of 2015 and the 16th of his Indy car career. It ties him with Dan Wheldon for 29th on the all-time list. Ryan, talk about today's race.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was a fantastic race. I mean, today's race was phenomenal. But first and foremost we're thinking about Justin. I actually thought when we won the race, just prior to that, I was told he was in the ambulance with Sage going to get checked. I thought everything was fine. Come to find out, it wasn't that straightforward.

Thoughts and prayers with him. He has a family, just like I do. He's a great friend, a teammate. Can't say enough about the guy on and off the racetrack. Thinking about his family, for sure. His two daughters. Can't imagine.

So, you know, these cars are inherently dangerous with the open cockpit like that, head exposed. Maybe in the future we can work towards some type of — we've seen some concept renderings of something that resemble as canopy, not a full jet fighter canopy, but something that can give us a little protection but keep the tradition of the sport.

Just to be an innocent bystander like that and get hit in the head with a nosecone is a scary thought. Thoughts and prayers are with him.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Ryan.

Q: Is this almost the most hollow feeling you've ever felt?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I didn't know that it was bad until after I actually crossed the finish line. I was as happy as could be in the car. I had no idea about it.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I tell you, I think it was one of the best drives of my career coming through the field a few times. We kept falling back. We had some issues on the stops. I went long once. We dropped wheel nuts. We did just a bunch of stuff. We kept going backwards in the pit stops. Kept fighting our way to the front. When you're able to pass Penskes and Ganassis like that, I think that 28 car was the class of the field today. It was a pleasure to drive it.

I had I think one of the better drives of my career. Then to find out right afterwards that what I thought was him being OK turned out to be the situation is not as explained. Yeah, I have no details. That's the worst part. You don't know how bad it is. I don't at least. I have no idea. All I know is that he was unconscious. He was not responding. He was airlifted. That's all obviously very bad details.

Very worried right now. I wish I could go see him. I will right now after this, go visit him, if I can, if they'll even let me in there or whatever. I have no details again. Sorry.

Q: Back to the race for a minute. At one point in the race, it was seven wide on the frontstretch. What was going through your mind, whether you saw or heard that?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, those restarts are crazy for sure. You have to take the advantage. That's the opportunity to jump, move forward, get into rhythm and start picking them off one by one.

That's the great thing, we were able to have great restarts. Once we settled into single file, I was able to pick them off one by one. Anytime we went backwards, we went forward. It was a fantastic race.

I hope the fans enjoyed it. In years past here, we've kind of had single-file racing. This was the opposite. It wasn't artificial drafting. It wasn't artificial passing. It was the good cars were making the moves. It was classic Indy car oval racing. Hopefully the fans really enjoyed it.

A lot of yellow I know they had to sit through, but hopefully they enjoyed it.

Q: You said in the beginning this open-wheel car is very dangerous. I think the accident with Justin is similar to Hinchcliffe last year. Could you be in touch with Dallara and suggest some ideas?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Credit to the Verizon IndyCar Series and everybody involved. We're always looking at ways to make this sport safer. First we had the innovation with the SAFER Barrier. Oval tracks in general we need to start looking into the next 20 years, maybe making the walls a little bit higher. Maybe coming up with something a little bit better than just mesh fencing and poles.

But, we need to start moving forward on it. And INDYCAR has always been at the forefront of safety. I give them a lot of credit for that.

When it comes to open-wheel cars, open-wheel is an open cockpit, always has been. But there's been some renderings of almost like a boomerang looking device in front of the driver that wouldn't block the vision but would deflect something like this.

There's been many renderings I've seen. Unfortunately it's only natural that when there is a situation like this, a dire situation, that breeds innovation. You know, it's unfortunate, but I think that's the way life is in general. I think that's the way everything works.

So hopefully Justin's OK and we can look at it in a positive light on that side of it and move forward on that, some progress in that flying debris through the air.

Q: You mentioned how the racing changed today from the last couple years. Do you think it's the position of this race in the season that it bred such a different kind of racing?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think it's a mix. I think it's 50/50 between the Verizon IndyCar rules package and the current aero kits, what we're racing. I think big credit also goes to Firestone. They brought a different tire here this year. It really went well. It allowed us to race more. It allowed for a little bit more front grip, which we needed.

Last year the only reason we couldn't pass is because we would have such big aero wash, we would have to lift, everybody would stay single file. I think Firestone did a great job with that. Firestone always does do a great job. They have the best product out there.

From beginning to end, I mean, we never have to worry about blowouts with these tires, we never have to worry about safety with them. They're rock solid and the best you can put on the race car. I think a big credit goes to Firestone.

Q: You mentioned thinking about Justin's family. Is it ever difficult for drivers to reconcile doing this job, knowing those guys are out there, that bad stuff happens?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Absolutely, yeah. I'm not going to act like I have no fear, no problem, I just put it all aside.

No, you think about family, for sure. You think about your health, you're well-being. The Indy car is much more dangerous than NASCAR, and I think that's something that is more on our minds than it is in NASCAR or sports car racing. It's more in our minds than in some other forms of racing. I'm not saying we're better or anything because of it. It's just a part of it.

Yeah, absolutely. There's fathers out there. There's husbands. There's brothers, sisters. It's something that absolutely we think about. We hope for the best with it.

James Hinchcliffe had the same issue, obviously not such a big piece of debris, which that really concerns me, but he had it on a road course, and that is an oval. It's not necessarily an oval or road course thing. The ovals tend to be more dangerous because we're traveling at a higher rate of speed.

Verizon IndyCar Series racing is dangerous, and I think that's always been a part of it.

Q: Obviously the last caution was very lengthy while they cleaned it up. Were you thinking maybe you weren't going to get the chance to race for the win?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, the length of the caution worried me about Justin. I was told he was OK and in the ambulance. I guess that was information that was passed down. It was just the wrong information.

With that many laps to go, with 10 laps to go, they were starting to get close to cleaning it up, I knew they'd give us one more shot at it.

There at the end with all the oil on the track, it was going to be a while to get that cleaned up. Obviously I'm relieved that we won the race. Everybody wants to see a green finish. After a day like today, with all the action we had, it was fantastic out there. It would have been nice to finish under green.

But, yeah, it's an unfortunate set of circumstances we're faced with with Justin. So I'll think about that.

Q: Ryan, the Hondas are on a winning streak now to end the season. The Honda aero kit obviously was a little bit off to start the year. How close is that now to the Chevys in terms of outright speed?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Honda has done a great job. In outright speed you need to look at qualifying. There's a lot that goes into race wins. There's strategies, calling your car into pits at a certain time, right before yellow, you end up moving to the front. There's things that mix up races a lot.

When you look at the qualifying side of it, we've been outdone 13-0 this year. When I get up to a Chevy right now, I can't stay out in front of them. I can pass them, get by them, because I've got a better balanced car than they do, than my competitors did today, but I'm not sitting out front, no way. The only time that happened is when people were saving fuel behind me. They still have the straight line (speed advantage). Why that is, I'm sure it's a drag-related issue. So we'll need to look at that more.

But I don't think the outright speed is where we need it yet. I think our performance, how we go about working at it as a team, working on the setup of the racecar, I think we've done a really good job of that. We've turned that around in the second half of the season because the car has been so much different.

We basically started over at the beginning of the season. We were always two steps behind. These weekends are so short at a street circuit or oval, if you don't roll off the truck decent and start tuning on it from there, you're out to lunch. We've been able to tweak that and come with a better setup to start.

Q: (No microphone.)

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, more outright speed.

Q: Does that mean on road courses you are equal or have an advantage?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: No. Like I said, I think it's a drag issue. That happens on straights and at road courses, too. Again, if you want to look at outright speed, you need to look at qualifying.

Q: (No microphone.)

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, no, they've shut us out in qualifying on road courses, too. I hate to say that, but it's a fact. Honda has been great. They have. I won the Indy 500 with them. Won two races with them. There's a long list of drivers that have won here at Pocono. I'm horned to be on that list now. I did that with a Honda. I'm absolutely thrilled with that.

To a certain extent, we've got to punch above our weight in a lot of ways, so we need to close that up, close that gap.

Q: (No microphone.)

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Even on the short straights of a road course, it comes to drag. The Verizon IndyCar Series, road course qualifying, you could have one-tenth of a second separate six or seven drivers. If you're giving up a tenth of a second on a straightaway, you're equal in the corners, you're always going to be at that deficit. So, yeah, it's been tough.

There has been many positives to what we have, right? Credit to Honda, we have better fuel mileage than Chevy. We saw that I think today. The Chevys were peeling in earlier than I was, at least. I'm not sure what that was about. I think the engine side we're very close. We need to close it up on the aero kit side.

THE MODERATOR: Ryan, thank you. Congratulations.

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