|Hendersonville's Newgarden 25th at first Indianapolis 500|
|Thursday, May 31, 2012|
Hendersonville’s Josef Newgarden made his first Indianapolis 500 start on Sunday and battled for 161 of the 200 laps before mechanical problems forced him to bow out of the race.
The former Pope John Paul II student finished 25th out of 33 drivers in the field. Williamson County resident Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500, crossing the line under caution. All three of his wins at the Brickyard have come under caution.
“There were drivers who were crazy at the beginning, and others were taking it easy,” he said. “It was similar to what I thought it would be. I was really focused on racing and the car. I could see that the place was more crowded, but I was so focused on the cars in front of me that I wasn’t really paying attention to the crowd for those first few corners.”
Newgarden, 21, who became the first native Middle Tennessean to compete in the race, started seventh and fought through problems most of the day.
“We were struggling from the start,” he said. “We had a couple of issues trying to get gears in the pits, which put us back in a bad position. We kept fighting, though.”
He stalled in the pits at lap 16, had a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road four laps later, stalled in the pits again on lap 48 and finally succumb to the mechanical problems with less than 40 to go after having made up the lap he lost.
“We did a great job of staying in the hunt,” said Newgarden, who drives for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in the No. 67 Honda, sponsored by Goodlettsville-based Dollar General Corporation. “We got really lucky when we got our lap back. We just kept pounding on the laps and finally got it back. Then it seems like we lost a bank. It was just unfortunate that we didn’t get to finish the race.”
The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Series champion started the race seventh, the highest rookie qualifier since Danica Patrick in 2005.
He was the fastest of all drivers when practices began in early May (220.250 and 222.486 mph over a three-day span). He also had the first accident of the practices leading up to Sunday’s race after spinning the car on May 16. However. Newgarden bounced back a few days later to become the fastest among the eight rookies in qualifying (224.037) and was still the fastest of the rookies (219.571) at the May 25 practice two days before the race.
“The car has changed a lot,” he said two days before the race. “We’ve had a phenomenal car the whole month, and things are starting to change. The car is accelerating with the change. It’s weird to spend the whole week trying to figure out the car, and you’re feeling good the whole time. Then all of a sudden, you’re not feeling so comfortable anymore, and you’ve got no more practice time.
“It’s time to race. You just have to hope you roll the dice right for Sunday and come up with the right calls.”
Knoxville’s Peter Kreis is the only other Tennessee native to have raced in the Indy 500 (1925-33).
— From Staff Reports