FORT WORTH, Texas (Aug. , 2019) – Reigning IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 race winner Josef Newgarden and 2016 race winner Graham Rahal spent Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway in the 100-plus degree heat conducting a tire test for Firestone. Each took time during the lunch break to meet with media to discuss their visit to the track, the summer heat, and the 2019 IndyCar season with four races remaining.
Josef Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, winner of the 2019 DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway and currently leading the 2019 IndyCar Series point standings with a 16-point cushion over second place:
What’s your game plan today?
“We’re really just helping them (Firestone) figure out a tire for next year. It’s kind of a normal procedure for us. Nothing really flashy, just a couple of cars trying to sort through tires, get them a big list checked off, and they’ve got a lot of data they can look at for the off season going into next year. It’s pretty simple, actually.
How tough is it with this heat today to be in the cars for as many hours as you are?
“It’s hot but it’s typical Texas. We’re not going to complain because we know the drill when we come down here. It’s not that different from the race weekend. It was hot when we were here a little bit ago so, yeah, it’s sort of the normal deal coming to Texas Motor Speedway.
Talk about your 2019 IndyCar Series season so far?
“I think we’ve had a good year. It can always be better. There’s areas where we can improve, certainly areas I can improve. I’ve had a couple mistakes on the year already so we need to, I need to make sure we clean that up before the final four races. But, overall, it’s been a season where you don’t want to complain too much about. We’ve had a lot of good success and good momentum on the guys’ side so we just gotta keep the boys motivated which is not hard to do. We’re a very motivated group, very focused on what we want to do and I think we feel confident we’re going to be in this hunt in the championship.”
What did it feel like rolling into Texas Motor Speedway this morning after your victory in the DXC Technology 600 in June?
“You know, I hadn’t really thought about it too much but it’s good to be back on track here. It was a great win. To be able to finally win around this place was a huge achievement. It’s such a difficult track to get right but that’s what makes it so rewarding. It’s an exciting track to win at. You feel special when you roll into Victory Lane here with your team and to achieve that feat is a big deal that everyone wants. You know, the cowboy hats, the six-shooters, just everything about it. It’s such a cool event. It’s very Texas and in a good way, I would say. So it felt good to come back and kinda see the place.
How do you approach going into the final four races with a 16-point lead? Are the races like the others or are you thinking about that lead and doing anything differently?
“Honestly, you gotta take it one race at a time. It’s a championship where every race matters. Yeah, the last races they look more important because you’re getting down to the wire so people put more emphasis on it but it’s one race at a time. The first race is just as important as the last race so that’s kind of how we approach it. We’re going to go to the next round and it’s four to go and you try and do the best there and if you put your best foot forward, get the best result possible that you can for the weekend, then the points are going to take care of themselves.”
Does it make a difference knowing that you’ve won a championship before?
“I don’t know that it makes a difference. So far it hasn’t made a difference. You know, it’s still hard. It was hard when we won our first championship and I think it’s going to be just as hard again this year to try and win another. It’s always good to know you can do it but I don’t think it makes it easier.”
Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, currently eighth in the 2019 IndyCar Series point standings and winner of the 2016 IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway:
Talk about being at Texas Motor Speedway and what you’re hoping to accomplish today.
“It’s good to be back. We had a pretty solid run here in the race, finishing third. Today, my lord, I didn’t think it got any hotter in Texas than when we were here racing … but it’s good to be back. Really just working with Firestone today. The goal is to find a more suitable tire for the 2020 race. Now, more suitable might mean a little more degradation so the cars slide around some more and it may not. You know, Josef (Newgarden) and I are going to pound around trying to find a good combination they’re (Firestone) comfortable with. But, seriously, it is so hot out here I feel like I’m driving around in an oven today. They want me to do the 700 Miles of Texas today so I’ll be pretty tired tonight.”
Can you explain how big a factor the heat is on drivers and making sure you’re hydrated?
“Today is worse. Today, legitimately, I think I’ll do probably 400-something laps by the time this day’s over. I’ve already done almost a hundred (by the lunch break). When you look at a race that’s 248 (laps) here, that’s a lot of laps. The race is very physical and, obviously, out here today we’re in the heat, the sun shining, whereas the night race is a little bit different but, look, it’s our job to come out and try to find the best. Firestone hand-selected two of us to come here and we’re honored to be a part of it. We’re appreciative to be here and we have to go find out what works.”
How good has it been to have found some momentum and rhythm within your team the past few races since Indy?
“Well, it was a shame because I think Indy really hurt our championship as far as we’re not in a position to win a championship. But, the 40 or 50 points we lost at Indy would put us in the top five right now in points, comfortably, so I’m still disappointed. Alabama we had a lot of bad luck. So, as I look back through my year, there’s been some great opportunities that have slipped. I hate that. You really can’t have that to be in contention in this series anymore. But I do think we’ve gotten better. We finish in the top 10 pretty much every single weekend but we should be winning races so we still have to work a little harder.”
What are your thoughts on the 2022 car?
“People have a misconception that it’s a hybrid powertrain. It’s a hybrid assist. It’s a hybrid boost, meaning the push-to-pass button, effectively will be a hybrid assist, an electric assist, that would give you more power. The engine is still a combustion engine, it still runs 100-percent combustion which is great. You know, the car is going to have a lot of power. People want that. I think there still is a high demand for combustion and I think people are excited to see that. But 900 horsepower is the same as it was back in my dad’s (1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal) day and I think everybody’s excited. Around here, the things are going to fly, they’re going to sound good. I mean, with power comes noise, you know. So it’s going to sound nice and healthy running around this place so we’re excited.”
Do you feel you and the team are close to reaching victory lane?
“There’s no doubt but we need to break the door down. It’s been since Detroit 2017. It’s been a long time for me and for our team and we need to just bust that door down. We’ve had a lot of bad luck in the past two years. I don’t care what anybody tells you: racing is a lot of luck, too, and we’ve had a lot of bad luck. Until, for whatever reason, that kind of goes away, we’re going to fight an uphill battle here a little bit. But the guys have fought awfully hard. I think the engineers have busted their butts. We’ve worked hard as drivers and our sponsors have stayed committed to us so we have a little work to do, for sure.
What do you make of Josef Newgarden’s season?
“He’s done a great job. Man, you look at their first couple wins … the strategy calls. To win here, the strategy call was unbelievable. They basically went from 11th, running 11th or 12th, to leading and I still don’t know how the hell that happened. But they’ve done a great job with stuff and Tim (Cindric, Team Penske president and race strategist for Newgarden’s team), their team, they always do that. So, there’s been a lot of good guys this year. You know, obviously, now you got even (Scott) Dixon chomping at their heels … you can never count him out, particularly with Laguna Seca being a double-points race. They’re giving us a lot to work towards, over on Penske side, and we’re going to keep trying to battle them.”
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