Battering his broken bones for 300 grueling, high-G-force laps on a short oval probably wasn't exactly what the doctor ordered for Josef Newgarden.
Nevertheless, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver dominated the Iowa Corn 300 Sunday with a sensational performance despite 13 screws holding his right clavicle together and driving with a broken right hand.
“I hate having a cop-out,” the No. 21 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet driver said after the race. “I don't want people to think that I'm having a harder time because of the injuries.”
Newgarden suffered the injures in a heavy accident at Texas Motor Speedway in early June.
He fought through the pain and led a record 282 laps in Iowa to take his third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory. The win pushed him three spots up the points table into second overall, 73 behind Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud. Unfortunately, the Ed Carpenter driver will likely suffer a huge points hit when the series heads back to Texas to resume the Firestone 600 on Aug. 27. Newgarden is already locked in for eight points due to the Lap 41 crash that caused his injuries.
Despite trying to play down his injuries, everybody in the paddock knew how difficult it would be for the 25-year-old Tennessee native to drive at the tight, 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway where the lateral forces won't give you a break.
“I think considering his hand and all that, man, when we were running wide open at the beginning of stints, it was physically difficult,” said No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver Will Power, who finished second.
“Full credit when you have a shunt like he had, come back from injuries, to a physical place like this, and win.”
On a short oval where the lap times are about 18 seconds, there's only three or four seconds where a driver can loosen his grip on the wheel and “rest.” Most of the lap has three to four times gravity (3-4 Gs) shoving the body to the outside of the cockpit and trying to make the car go straight into the wall. Drivers must battle the G-forces on the steering wheel that makes it feel like holding bricks in each hand for two hours.
Even Newgarden let his guard slip a bit in post-race interviews, hinting that it wasn't as easy as he made it seem.
Had he not been fighting for the win, Newgarden admitted that he likely would have backed off a little and tried to give his aching body a break, but the car was too good and he simply could not let his team down. So, he focused on “gritting it out.”
“I'm not going to lie to you, I kind of impressed myself,” he said.
“Don't take that in like a cocky way. I was really nervous coming into the race. I didn't want to tell anybody that. This place is super physical. I can't express to you how physical it is.”
Pagenaud's points lead shrinks again
Drivers always want to finish first, but sometimes second or even third place is just as good as a win when you are fighting for the season title.
Even if he couldn't catch Newgarden, Power's move from fourth to second late in the Iowa Corn 300, which included putting Pagenaud behind him, gained him eight important points on the championship leader.
“Got to keep chipping away, keep chipping away each week,” Power said.
“I don't know why, if you get a big points lead in the middle of the year, somehow you know you aren't going to have that coming down toward the end.”
Power is 75 points behind, but now has Newgarden between him and Pagenaud.
The same goes for No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet driver Dixon, who faded late in Sunday’s race and saw Power get by, but still had enough to hold onto third ahead of the points leader.
It may only mean three extra points, but with his fourth Verizon IndyCar Series title being decided by a tiebreaker last year, Dixon certainly knows every one counts.
“They're (Pagenaud and Team Penske) going to have to work for it, that's what it comes down to,” said Dixon, who is 88 points behind the leader.
“A lot of championships, I find that towards the end it becomes a real race for the points.”