Newgarden: “If you try to predict the race, it does the opposite”

Mid-Ohio pole-winner Josef Newgarden’s is not prepared to make strategy predictions for tomorrow’s Honda Indy 200 – unless there are zero yellow flags.

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s two-time champion, who has now won three straight poles but is still seeking his first win, believes the 80 lap race will be a straightforward two-stop affair… unless caution periods turn the field inside out.

Asked about strategy, he said: “Depends on the yellows. Outside of yellows, if it's a green race, it looks pretty straightforward… But if you try and predict the race, it does the opposite sometimes.

“So it could be all green or we could have five yellows. You just don't know. I think yellows are always what flip the script on these things. If it's green all day, it looks pretty straightforward.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who fell just 0.0031sec short of deposing Newgarden, said tire strategy, regarding how long to run on the Firestone primaries and alternate tires, would depend on how much rubber was on the track, on a weekend where all three Road To Indy series have multiple sessions.

“Every stint, the more rubber that goes down, the easier it gets on the tires,” he said. “But I think tire wear, we’re pretty confident with it. I don't think it's going to be anything like Detroit… The more rubber goes down, the easier it can be to manage the tires.”

Regarding caution periods throwing a grenade into strategic plans, Herta conceded “you can't really do much about it,” since a leading team and driver have to somewhat respond to those who make an early stop, so that if a caution period comes out and bunches the field and closes the pits, they haven’t handed over the lead to one of the early stoppers.

Herta explained further: “If you're running up front, you kind of usually wait for some guys to pit before you and pit when you can. So kind of hope, pray. But I don't think you put yourself in a good position if you pit five laps before you normally would; you shoot yourself in the foot for later.

“It's a tough one up front. I think luckily now in Race Control they've been open to the idea of kind of keeping it green if the [spun] car is not in a dangerous area. Obviously if it's in a dangerous area, then they'll put out the caution.

“It’s very tough [if] you're in a race winning position and get taken off with a yellow. It's difficult.”

Newgarden added: “Obviously Race Control doesn't want to dictate races. Puts them in a tough spot. I think they hate having to throw a yellow and it flips the world upside down for the top 5 who have worked hard to get there and deserve to stay there. So they don't want to influence the race.

“But to Colton's point, you can only do so much in the rule sets that we have because it's a closed pit situation. If there's a car in harm's way, they've got to throw the yellow immediately. If they can't, I think they try and do everything possible to give the teams an opportunity to pit, which is about the best you can do with this set of rules.

“If we want to make it even better, you know, where we mitigate the risk of your race being ruined by a yellow, then we've got to change the rules. We've got to figure out how to do that safely. That's another conversation.

“But as far as how we approach the day, to Colton's point, you can only do so much. There's some areas where you can lower your risk of getting caught by the yellow, but then there's some areas where you just can't do anything about it. You've got to focus on your strategy that you have kind of gone with. If you get bit by it, it sucks to get bit by it. That's the nature of this style of racing at the moment.”

Newgarden later emphasized: “When [caution periods] purely take you out of the top 10, when you're up there on merit, it's a hard pill to swallow. But like I said, it's the rule sets we live in right now. It's the style of racing we're used to. We know the drill.

“If we want to make that better, we have to change the rules one day.”

 

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