Josef Newgarden took advantage of the new Indianapolis 500 qualifying format to secure a Fast Nine Shootout position when the clock ticked down Saturday evening, May 17 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) driver Newgarden waited in “Line 2″ in pit lane to make his third qualifying attempt of the day – the safer option, where cars that have already qualified, yet want another attempt can re-qualify without withdrawing their previous attempt.
With 10 minutes remaining in the six-hour session, SFHR team owner Wink Hartman decided to take a risk — and the end result was more than worth the gamble.
“We would not have made it into the Fast 9 if it wasn’t for Wink Hartman because he’s the guy who made the call to go into the fast line (Line 1),” Newgarden said. “If we wouldn’t have done that, we wouldn’t have had a shot to make that third run.
“Line 1 is a risk because you’re forfeiting your time, and you go to the bottom of the charts, and hope you can do better. It was a brilliant call by Wink, and now we’re in the Fast Nine Shootout tomorrow.”
Newgarden’s third and final four-lap qualifying average speed was 230.033 mph, eighth fastest of the day.
“Everyone was scrambling for six hours today, and it was non-stop adrenaline trying to find the most speed,” Newgarden said. “Getting a Fast Nine spot is exactly where we want to be, but we need to find even more speed for tomorrow.”
SFHR’s second driver for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Alex Tagliani, made only one qualifying attempt at 227.813 mph. Tagliani hoped to make a second attempt near the end of the day, but the clock ran out before his No. 68 Dallara/Honda/Firestone car made it to the front of Line 2.
“I’m really happy for the team that they made it into the top nine with Josef,” Tagliani said. “That’s very important for the championship. I think the team has a good chance to steal the show tomorrow with the 67 car, and I will be pulling and supporting them.
“In regards to the 68 car, I am really sad for the crew. They deserve better, and I am going to be on a mission for the race because that’s the only thing that matters.”
Tagliani finished the day 31st fastest and will re-qualify in Group 3 on Sunday, May 18, which includes positions 31-33 in the field.
A bonus to the day for SFHR was the 26 championship points earned by Newgarden’s No. 67 Dallara/Honda/Firestone car.
“The big thing about this new qualifying format is the points,” Newgarden said. “For anyone running the full championship, this is like a race, and you need to do well because it’s huge points.”
Newgarden ended the day with a smile, giving full credit to his support system.
“SFHR is incredible; they really are,” he said. “This is my third full season with the team, and there’s a lot happening within the group that’s continuously evolving, and it’s crazy what can develop over three years. We are building a backbone right now, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
The Fast Nine Shootout begins at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday. Qualifying will air on ABC from 1-3 p.m. To keep up with the latest news and updates from SFHR, follow @SFHRindy on Twitter and Instagram and like Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing on Facebook.