Newgarden Shows Speed at Phoenix Test

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Josef Newgarden heads into this season with confidence, after having a successful 2015 campaign with two victories.

Notably, both wins came on road/street courses as he won at Barber Motorsports Park and on the streets of Toronto. However, it doesn’t mean he lacks on the ovals as he scored some strong finishes, including a fifth and second at the pair of short ovals.

The return of Phoenix International Raceway to the schedule would seem to fit right in for Newgarden given that success, and it showed during the test as he posted the third quickest time.

While the driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy Vodka Chevrolet has never driven at Phoenix before, he knows the importance of the track via hearing stories from previous events, dating to the series’ last appearance in 2005.

“(Team owner) Ed (Carpenter) tells me about his stories when he was a kid. This was like always his spring break destination, and he saw some really awesome races here. This is where he used to hang out when he was younger,” Newgarden recalled. “I think it makes it exciting to be here for me when I hear all those stories.”

The other key factor in the series’ return is the fan interest, as a lot of fans attended the test session.

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“Hopefully, that bodes well for the race,” the 2011 Indy Lights Champion continued. “Hopefully, we get a lot of people here. It seems like people really want to see us racing here, so that’s great. It’s a really great thing.”

Comparing the 1.022-mile to Iowa Speedway (a 0.894 oval), Newgarden cites that it’s a little easier to drive as you sustain less load at Phoenix.

“You reach about the same peak loading as Iowa in Turns 1 and 2, but it’s more crimped, and you get in and out of it quicker,” he explained. “So it’s not as sustained. And 3 and 4 are more open than Iowa and not quite as banked. It’s tough. The reason it’s tough is because the track has so much grip. You can peel quite a bit of downforce off and still run fast around here because of the surface. You can really feel the surface has a lot of grip in it. So physically it’s going to be very difficult for everyone, but maybe just a tick under Iowa, which was no small feat. That was a tough race.”

The short ovals have produced exciting races in the past, and many are wondering whether the same potential remains with Phoenix. While hard to follow someone directly at Milwaukee due to the rear of the car twitching, it seemed easier to follow someone at Phoenix. However, the ability to use different lanes may result in a one-groove track.

“You’re going to see racing, it’s just going to be more in pack situations where people get jumbled up, people check up,” he said. “You’re going to have people moving. Is that going to be in the corners? It might be a little tough. You might have some racing room in 1 and 2, but 3 and 4 you’ll find difficult to go two wide.

“It’s kind of an unknown, but there’s going to be some kind of racing here for sure. We’ll have somewhat of a show, absolutely.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularopenwheel.com

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Ashley McCubbin is currently studying journalism at the University of Guelph-Humber while writing for multiple websites. She also serves on the managing staff for a select few. Born in North York, Ontario, McCubbin currently lives in Bradford, Ontario and spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area where she enjoys taking photos and working on websites.

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