Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Josef Newgarden admits he had no idea if his “risky” pass on Robert Wickens to win the 2018 IndyCar race at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway was going to work out.
Newgarden and teammate Will Power had moved to the front of the field after Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi and polesitter Sebastien Bourdais all lost out in the first pitstops with errors.
The Penske duo were later undercut by the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Wickens, as well as Ed Jones of Ganassi and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, but an early next stop for Newgarden allowed him to undercut back to the lead.
Then a late full-course yellow prompted him to pit for a splash of fuel and new rubber, setting up a seven-lap dash to the finish.
With the two SPM drivers and Andretti’s Alexander Rossi staying out on old rubber, Newgarden stormed past Rossi and Hinchcliffe, and then got around Wickens at Turn 1 to make the race-winning move with less than four laps to go.
“The last pass was risky, I didn't know how that was going to go,” said Newgarden. “The first one [the pass on Hinchcliffe and Rossi] I felt pretty confident in. I analyzed it. It was premeditated.
“The last one [overtake]… I didn't know I had to do that. When I was sizing him up, I was like, 'Man, this is the only way this is going to work out'. I didn't know if it was going to work, but it was good.
“The tires make a huge difference. I had 50-lap newer tires [compared to Wickens]. With that, with how much he had to check up in Turn 1, he gave me just enough room.
“I didn't have to get crazy high. That one I definitely took risks. I think sometimes you have to do that in the right position, and I think it was the right time to do it tonight.”
Newgarden added that he had doubts about the race call employed by his strategist and Penske president Tim Cindric, with the team opting for an early second stop midway through the race to gamble on fuel.
That kept Newgarden in the leading pack before Jones caused the final caution that set up his race win.
“Honestly, I didn't know if that was the right call,” he said. “I felt like we finally got our car where we needed to be in the final stint. I don't want to question Tim.
“He normally doesn't let me down, the team doesn't normally let me down. Whatever they say to do, I'm always going to do it.
“I always think, ‘did we do the right thing?’. After winning the race, we did the right thing.
“I think it was a team win tonight. I don't know that I deserved to win the race, but I think the team did. They did a really good job on strategy, [the] pit stops were unbelievable. I think I gained like five or six positions on just the first stop, which was awesome.”