Newgarden: Previous qualifying missteps ended real title hopes

Newgarden qualified 14th on the Indianapolis road course (but also had a six-place grid penalty for an early engine change), 16th at Portland and 17th at Laguna Seca, resulting in finishes of eighth, fifth and seventh, respectively.

“I wish we didn’t lose that the last couple weekends,” he said afterward. “It would have been nice to have that mojo. It’s really what’s done our fate in for this weekend, just not qualifying well. It’s nice to have that back.

“We’ve had a fast car this weekend. We started a little bit slower. It’s been kind of the opposite the last two weekends where we started really quick, then for whatever reason we just fade and don’t get it right on the day when it counts.

“Really proud of the team. Felt like our car was good from the start. Just needed the track grip to come up. The more grip we had, the better I felt our car was. Yeah, pretty happy for our whole team, especially Gavin [Ward, race engineer], all the boys on the Hitachi Team Chevy.

“Got one goal accomplished for the weekend. Hopefully we can finish things off tomorrow and have a clean day.”

Asked if Ward had given him some inspiration to recapture his qualifying form from earlier in the year that has resulted in four pole positions, Newgarden replied: “We have these fun things that we do. He’s got a pre-event report that he always does, and I love to read it. He puts inspirational quotes at the top page. In this case he just put three pole-winning photos. I was laughing with him on Friday. I was like, Well, at least we know how to do it, right? Literally it feels like we forgot how to do our job the last couple weeks.

“Yeah, that’s the inspiration he gave me: ‘Let’s just go do what we normally do.’ Somehow it worked out. Pretty pumped on that.”

Asked by Motorsport.com if he could detail what went wrong on road courses recently, Newgarden said it had been different issues.

“Laguna was probably the most confusing,” he commented. “I felt like we had the car to beat going into Laguna. It just unraveled oddly on Saturday morning when we put on red tires [Firestone’s softer alternate compound]. Not a 100 percent sure what took place there.

“I think Portland we just got behind. It was sort of self-inflicted. We just didn’t keep up with the track, didn’t put it together. That happens at Portland. It’s so tight there, if you do that, you can get bounced out pretty quickly. That was more easy to understand, but no less difficult to realize.

“I think it was probably a combination of things at the [Indy] GP weekend. But you just can’t have that. When you have 28 cars in the championship now, I mean, you can’t start back in 17th, 18th. It’s going to kill your day, especially when there’s nothing that happens in the race to help you [conveniently-timed caution periods]. You’re really banking on at least some help somewhere to vault you to the top three.

“We can fight to fifth or seventh – that’s what we did – but to do much more than that you have to have an extraordinary day. Those are just really hard to come by nowadays with the parity in the series.

“The last two weekends were really, really odd. I’m so pleased to go into this off-season with something more normal and just feeling a little bit better about going into ’22.”

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