Newgarden looking for IndyCar leader at home in Nashville

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Josef Newgarden wasn’t in peak physical condition when he raced last week in Indianapolis, he admits.

But missing out would have crippled his championship chances, so getting medical clearance to compete after his post-race collapse in Iowa was Newgarden’s only choice. He finished fifth to maintain his hold on third place in the IndyCar standings.

“I wasn’t 100% but I felt good, I felt normal in a lot of ways, but I’m still trying to improve,” Newgarden said. “We needed to be in the race, and I was happy to be there.”

Next up is his home race, the second Music City Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Nashville. Newgarden was an ambassador for last year’s inaugural race and the commitments admittedly stretched him ahead of his deflating 10th-place finish.

It won’t be good enough on Sunday for Newgarden’s quest for a third IndyCar title. So he reduced his obligations ahead of this year’s race and used several days this week to reset after his disruption in Iowa.

Newgarden won the first race of Iowa’s doubles last month to take the IndyCar points lead, but crashed hard the next day as he led in pursuit of the weekend sweep. The incident dropped him to third place in the standings, then came a medical alert: Newgarden was cleared into the care center but then lost consciousness in the RV parking lot and hit his head .

It is believed he suffered a concussion when his head hit the pavement. It took deliberate care to ensure that Newgarden would be cleared to race at the Indianapolis road course last Saturday. At the end of that run, he “just felt tired”.

“I was tired from the intense week,” he said. “It wasn’t so much that I was dealing with symptoms, I just wasn’t at 100 per cent energy. I feel like this week I had more time to rest and I will be more myself this weekend.

Newgarden is in a close fight for the title with six drivers separated by 52 points with four races remaining. His Team Penske teammate Will Power took the lead for the third time this season after Indianapolis; Newgarden, with four IndyCar wins this season, is 32 points behind his teammate.

Newgarden is passionate about IndyCar in Nashville and last year his schedule was packed with pre-race appearances to promote the debut of the event. This year, it scaled back its fourth annual ping pong tournament for charity. About a dozen of his teammates took part in the Thursday afternoon tournament. The Newgarden team qualified for the final but lost.

He said the charity tournament was a priority. Newgarden, through an IndyCar bonus program, has already won a $1 million prize this season and $500,000 has been split between two charities of its choice. The tournament also benefited the two charities, Wags and Walks of Nashville and SeriousFun Children’s Network.

Newgarden’s support has helped Wags and Walks – where Newgarden and his wife adopted one of their dogs – open its first facility which will double the number of animals it helps rescue each year. Founder Kathryn Dhall and Clea Newman, who runs the SeriousFun Children’s Network which was started by her father, the late actor Paul Newman, attended the tournament.

Music City’s first Grand Prix was a mess – nine cautions meant 33 of the 80 laps went under yellow – and winner Marcus Ericsson opened the race with a mid-air crash he recovered from for earn their second win of the season.

But traffic jams, blocked tracks, water on the racing surface and bumpy city streets of Nashville all played a role in one of the most botched IndyCar races in years. This led to track adjustments ahead of Sunday’s race on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile Nashville course.

—The restart area is now located along the long straight out of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge and into Turn 9. This was the starting point last year; the restarts were done on the start-finish line.

Colton Herta dominated all of last year’s weekend until he crashed with five laps to go chasing Ericsson for the win. He welcomed the change.

“I think it’s a good decision. It’s going to be difficult as a leader, I think, to get a good jump on the pitch, but it’s a very long straight,” Herta said. definitely overtaking, I think.”

—The entrance to Turn 9 was narrowed from 25 feet to 60 feet on the driver’s left to make room for suites in front of a gas station. The change should slow the corner and create a passing zone.

—The top of Turn 11 has been widened by 4 feet, which should provide better visibility for drivers.

—The speed limit for the pit lane has been reduced from 45 mph to 40 mph, adding around three seconds to the total pit lane time.

—Transitions on and off the deck in both directions have been reprofiled and repaved to lessen the impact of bumps. A year ago, only the asphalt on and off the bridges was repaved 20 feet past the transitions. Now it has been repaved for 125 feet to create a smoother transition over a longer distance.

—A bump in Turn 5 has been re-profiled to smooth out hill-climbing disturbances in the turnaround section of the course.

Firestone will launch its eco-friendly guayule tire this weekend as part of IndyCar’s sustainability efforts. The tire was used in the pit stop challenge at Indianapolis in May, but was never on the track.

The tire is made in part of a new, durable natural rubber derived from the guayule shrub, which requires less re-harvesting than traditional sources of rubber. It will be used as an alternate tire this weekend in Nashville.

Guayule is a drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant woody desert shrub native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Natural rubber can be extracted from the branches, bark and roots of the shrub, but since guayule is not currently a commercial crop, Bridgestone must produce the seed and grow the crop.

Guayule natural rubber is located on the inside of the sidewall. Bridgestone racing tire engineers decided to use guayule rubber on the entire sidewall because this area is made up of the most natural rubber. This allows Firestone to maintain the same quality and performance as the existing race tire.

Bridgestone plans to incorporate guayule natural rubber into more of its racing tires from 2023.

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