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The Way It Is/ Josef Newgarden arrives

by Gordon Kirby
It was great to see Josef Newgarden score an extremely well-deserved first IndyCar win at Barber Motorsports Park. Newgarden has been knocking on the door since he came into IndyCar in 2012 with Sarah Fisher's team. He's run at or near the front in quite a few races and this year's merger with Ed Carpenter's team means Newgarden is part of a two-car operation for the first time. He was superb at Barber and it will be interesting to see if Josef can win again this year and keep himself in the battle for the championship with the all-powerful Penske and Ganassi teams.

Newgarden was on the way to winning at Mid-Ohio last year before a pit stop gaffe got in the way and he was relieved that everything finally came together in Alabama.

"It worked out this time," Josef grins. "That's what was nice about it. It was a clean day and I'm really happy for our team."

Newgarden was surprised to run as well as he did in the race at Barber.

"We were pretty good all weekend," he said. "Right from the beginning of the race we were strong. I didn't think we would be that good. I thought we would be a top five car because we were running in the top group all weekend but I didn't know that we had enough to beat the leaders. But right from the start we really got aggressive and it seemed like we had the speed and the fuel mileage to go to the front.

© Mike Levitt/LAT USA
"I was kinda surprised. I knew Dixon was going to be a strong challenger. He could run fast and get good fuel mileage like we were getting but I didn't know that we had enough to hold him off. So it was a little bit surprising but I guess I shouldn't be that surprised because I know how good we can be. I was just happy to see that we were able to put it together. It's all about getting all the little details right and we did it on the track and in the pits."

Josef believes being part of a two-car team is helping his performances this year.

"I think it really is a big benefit," he says. "It was a big part of my decision to stay with this group. There's a lot more resources and people with the two teams merging. I think we have even more ability to make things happen like we need to. In IndyCar you have to have a strong group to be able to take on Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, who have these big teams with lots of resources and people. We're a lot closer to that now.

"There are definite advantages to having a teammate. It's been great having data to look at from Luca (Filippi). He's very quick and has got a lot of speed. He hasn't shown all of it yet. But with me being able to look at his data I've been able to learn quite a bit. That's helped me become faster and better, and I think when we get on the ovals Ed is going to be a tremendous help for me with what he's been able to do over the years.

"And having JR Hildebrand in a third car at the Speedway will also be a help. He's another guy who's very good at Indianapolis so we should be able to put together three very competitive cars."

CFH Racing is run by veteran Indy car mechanic and team manager Tim Broyles and Sarah Fisher's husband Andy O'Gara. Pat Barnes is the team's chief engineer and Jeremy Milless is Newgardn's engineer. Josef's crew chief is Anton Julian. Ben Schmidt is crew chief on the Filippi/Carpenter car.

"They've done some different things with the #20 car and Anton and Ben have been able to compare notes so they can learn from each other," Newgarden notes.

Josef expects Scott Dixon and Team Penske's four drivers to be the guys to beat this year.

© CFH Racing
"Dixon looks very good in his Ganassi car on the road courses specifically," Newgarden observes. "I don't think he got it all put together at Barber but I think he's actually a little stronger than the Penske army. I think Scott's the guy to watch on road courses but right behind him you've got Penske's four cars which have all been fast. They started the year fast and they've been fast in all the races.

"I think we're right behind that bunch. I think we're really close to them. We're not necessarily ahead of them. We've been around the fifth-placed car at a lot of places so far, which is really good, and I think we're on the edge of being able to get in front of them.

"It would be wrong of me to say we are in front of them. I don't think we are yet. We've got a little bit more to do to take that final step to say we're the quickest of everyone. But I think we're right there with those guys. We've made big strides over the winter to get there."

Like everyone else, Newgarden is intrigued and hopeful about how the largely untested oval aero kits will stack up.

"I'm a little unsure about the ovals," he acknowledges. "I think everyone is. From a Chevy and Honda standpoint we've seen the road and street course kits develop so far, but it's really a complete unknown on the ovals because it's a completely different kit. We're just hoping that Chevy has done as good a job with their oval spec as they've done with their street and road course package."

Josef is impressed with the performance from Chevrolet's new engine. He says the biggest improvement has come from better power down.

"I was with Honda for three years and they're very, very good at what they do," he remarks. "They're a tough opponent now that I'm on the Chevy side. Honda has always been exceptional at the drivability of the engine. They've always been very strong with anything ECU-related.

"I think Chevy was a little behind in that department but they've made really good gains with the new engine. The drivability now is just phenomenal and we have a lot of options that we can work with. We're able to make the car do what we want when we're getting on the power which is pretty critical now because you're using a lot of throttle management on all the corner exits. Drivability is key and I think that's where their biggest gain has come from."

Newgarden is delighted with the challenge of understanding and developing this year's aero kits.

© CFH Racing
"I think it's been great," he enthused. "It's been fascinating from the engineering side and I love the engineering side as a driver to learn about everything we do on the cars and why they're quick. It's not just making them quick and getting in and driving them but understanding what we're doing to make them quick. Knowing those things about the cars is what's entertaining to me.

"So it's been a new challenge. There's a new component that you've got to try to maximize as well with everything else on the car to get speed out of it. To me it's been fun to learn on the technical side."

Josef was delighted to see plenty of close racing and passing at Barber.

"There was great debate on the racing side about would the aero kits ruin the great racing IndyCar has had over the past three years," he says. "If Barber was anything to go by, it's only made it better. That was probably the best race we've put on at Barber ever since we've been going there. I was able to watch the video and it was a really thrilling show. I was surprised how much passing went on and how much side by side racing we saw, and that's not an easy track to do that at.

"I would say up to this point we've done four races and fifty percent of them have been very good shows. I think that's the way it is in all motor sports. You're not going to hit it out of the park one hundred percent of the time. We've hit a couple of homers and the other two times we didn't have a stellar time at bat, but that's how racing goes."

At the end of last year Newgarden signed a one-year contract with CFH for 2015.

"You never know how things are going to work out in racing and I think a one-year deal was perfect for both sides, for me and for CFH Racing. They have a lot that's going on with them and you never know what they may be doing in a year's time. I think it was a perfect fit for both of us."

There's plenty of speculation about whether Newgarden will continue with CFH or move on to the likes of Penske or Ganassi. Some also suggest that Josef could make the move to F1 with Gene Haas's new team.

"I don't know anything about F1 as of now, or as far as what might develop in the next year or so," Newgarden says. "F1 has always been my ambition as a young race car driver. When I moved over to Europe I wanted to try to get into Formula 1. That's always been on my plate and still is, but I just don't know how that would happen.

"I really want to have good success in IndyCar but Formula 1 is still on the list. I don't know if it's still possible to mount a charge to go and do that. The only thing I can say is, time will tell. I don't know anything as of now.

"There's a lot of good things going on here in IndyCar," he adds. "I've always loved Indy car racing and I think it's the best racing on the planet right now. The more we put on good, clean races like Long Beach and Barber, you can't find anything better than the product IndyCar puts out.

"So it would be a big decision to do something different than I'm doing now, and I've had so much help to find success in IndyCar with all the people and the team around me. It would be a very big decision if it came up."

Newgarden assessed his goals for this year.

© Mike Levitt/LAT USA
"The big thing for me is to get ourselves in a place where we're consistently running up front every weekend when we're always a threat and always a challenge. I think we've had that over the first four weekends this year. We've always been right in the mix. We've always been running in the top ten, and a lot of the times we're in the top five, so we're right there with the front group running with the lead pack.

"If we can continue doing that all year I think we'll have a good shot at more victories and finishing well in the championship. That's really the main goal. We're here to be consistently fighting for victories, week in and week out, and being able to convert our luck into wins. That's how you measure yourself."

Josef says he has no favorite tracks or bad tracks. He believes he can win anywhere.

"I really feel good about everything. We didn't have a win over three years and obviously, we've been working very hard for it and waiting for that day to come. I think a lot of guys on our team thought Long Beach was our opportunity to win because we've run so strongly at Long Beach in the past.

"I told them when we got back from Long Beach that we were going to race for victories where ever we go. I said don't try and figure out where we're going to win because it's going to come where you least expect it. And lo and behold, it came the next weekend at Barber.

"I knew we would be pretty good at Barber and have a shot at it, but I feel that way about everywhere we go. I feel every track we go to we're going to have a shot of winning. I'm excited about any event we roll into."

Josef Newgarden and CFH Racing have arrived as serious contenders in IndyCar. It will be both interesting and exciting to see if they can win more races this year and challenge powerhouses Penske and Ganassi for the championship.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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