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NEWTON — Broken hand? No problem. Broken clavicle? No problem. Every other car in the paddock? No problem.
Josef Newgarden had been second in the last two Iowa Corn 300s at Iowa Speedway, but on Sunday it was everyone else who was racing for second. IndyCar’s rising star faced no resistance in picking up his first win on an oval and third in his Verizon IndyCar Series career.
No broken bones or competitors had anything on him.
“Well that was a lot of fun, I’ll tell you that,” Newgarden said. “The car was so good. It was fun. In some stints, it was like a video game. You put on new tires, you catch people at the right point and you could just slice and dice.
“We had a really good car here last year and I think we had a shot at winning then. We were disappointed we couldn’t get it done last year. We really wanted to do that this year, and we finally got it done. The car was just amazing.”
Newgarden’s dominance was historic; highlighted by the first third of the race.
The Hendersonville, Tenn. native started second but took the lead right from the green flag, and over the 300-lap race, the only time he wasn’t in the lead — 18 laps in total — was when the field made green flag pit stops. The race went the first 109 laps without a caution, and in that span Newgarden lapped every driver but pole sitter Simon Pagenaud.
He led 282 laps in all — an all-time IndyCar record — and was never seriously challenged. The closest anyone came was Scott Dixon on the final restart, when he tried a move coming to the green flag. Even then, after Newgarden kept the lead, Dixon said he burned his tires off just trying to keep up with the Ed Carpenter Racing driver.
Dixon’s worn tires left him third at the finish behind Newgarden and Will Power. Like pretty much everyone else after the race, all Dixon could do was laugh and shrug when asked to pinpoint the difference between Newgarden and the field.
“It almost seemed like he had another set of wings (for downforce) on that car,” Dixon said through a smile. “It’s a huge credit to him and everyone at his team. They did a hell of a job. We knew all day he was fast, but it wasn’t until the end until I got up to the front of the field (to see firsthand). It was impressive.
“If I knew what it was, we’d be trying the same thing.”
Newgarden’s first oval win came in the first oval race after he sustained a broken right hand and clavicle in a ferocious wreck at Texas Motor Speedway four weeks ago.
The rebound this quickly impressed his fellow competitors, to be certain.
“I think considering his hand and all that, wow,” Power said. “When we were running wide open in the beginning stints, it was seriously physical on your arms. He was having to grip that wheel. Full credit to him. I said before the race, to my wife, ‘Newgarden is going to win this race.’ I knew it. I could just tell.
“When you have a shunt like he had and then to come back from injuries to a physical place like this, it was very, very good.”
When the race was over and he got to celebrate in Victory Lane, Newgarden couldn’t even lift the gas-pump-styled winner’s trophy.
Iowa Speedway’s physical demands are great, and Newgarden knew it was going to be a challenge going in. As he said after qualifying, if he didn’t feel 100 percent ready, he wasn’t going to race.
Having met that challenge, though, wasn’t anything to sneeze at. The joy of putting both his injuries and those back-to-back second place finishes behind him so emphatically left him emotional in his Victory Lane interview, and he rode that high all the way out of Newton — with a bag of ice on his right hand and maybe some sponsor product (Fuzzy’s Vodka) in the other.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I kind of impressed myself. And don’t take that in a cocky way; I was really nervous getting into the race,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t want to tell anyone that, but this place is super physical. I can’t express to you how physical it is. A couple things can make that easier: if you have as good of a car as I did, it makes your race so much easier to drive.
“But I was surprised I could hold on. I never thought about pitting, but that’s what I was going to do (if I couldn’t). When I realized how good (I was) — I could tell in the first stint. I was like, ‘I’ve got to be stupid if I can’t make it through this whole race. The car is so good.’ That was enough motivation for me to get through it.”
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