Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:16 pm
Newgarden says contact caused Turn 1 crash
By JENNA FRYERAP Auto Racing Writer
The 21-year-old rookie from Nashville started on the front of Sunday's race next to the four-time IndyCar champion and made a bold move to pass Franchitti on the outside. It was a narrow passing zone to begin with, and Newgarden wound up in a tire barrier in a race-ending crash.
"I have seen it. I've seen all the angles now, and I feel the same way I felt in the car - I wouldn't do anything differently," Newgarden told The Associated Press.
"I think it was a good legitimate move; the way I executed it just didn't work out."
Why it didn't work out is up for debate.
Franchitti said after the race he didn't believe he made contact with Newgarden, and IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield said officials found replays inconclusive.
"I thought it was fairly brave," Franchitti said Sunday. "I braked fairly late. I was on the edge. He tried to go right around the outside and ended up in the tires, and that was it. I don't think there was any contact."
But Newgarden, who won five races last season while claiming the Indy Lights championship, is confident Franchitti hit him.
"Oh, 100 percent, I think it was pretty clear on the video," Newgarden said. "When the car swings around that hard - absolutely there was contact. It was very violent in the car; when I got hit, it was pretty hard."
He seemed understanding with IndyCar's explanation that officials couldn't see anything definitive that warranted penalizing Franchitti.
"Camera angles can be so deceiving," Newgarden said. "It's hard to be an official and try to officiate that kind of stuff. If (Barfield) doesn't see anything he's sure about, then that's the call he made. It's hard to pick it up on camera, but I know it was a hard hit. It just doesn't look as hard on camera."
Newgarden and Franchitti spoke Monday, the day after the race, at an appearance for all Honda drivers. Newgarden declined to reveal what was discussed.
"It was fine. We're fine. I think we're on OK terms," Newgarden said. "It's racing. There's going to be more racing like that, and I'm sure I'll be racing with him again this year."
What Newgarden lacks in IndyCar experience he more than makes up for with confidence in himself and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team. He impressed veterans with his poise in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg and has quickly adapted to IndyCar after only three race weekends.
He just missed out on advancing to the Fast Six round of qualifying at Long Beach, a slip he blames on himself for being too comfortable after posting such a fast lap in the first session. Because all the Chevrolet drivers were penalized for engine changes, Newgarden was moved up to the front row at the start, next to Franchitti.
Newgarden joked after qualifying he'd probably try to pass Franchitti at the start because the champion wouldn't be expecting it, and says now calling his shot had nothing to do with how the attempted pass ended.
And he downplays any discussion that the move officially announced his arrival - much like a young Juan Pablo Montoya famously did when he refused to lift off the gas in a race to the finish with veteran Michael Andretti - or that Sunday's move was an attempt to introduce Newgarden as the bold young American who won't back down to veterans.
Still, it's not been lost on anyone that on the restart following Newgarden's crash, Justin Wilson successfully passed Franchitti on the outside without incident - sparking debate that Franchitti wasn't as rough with a veteran driver.
"What everyone saw that day is me. It's a move I've made in the past, a move I made that day, and a move I'll make in the future," he said. "It just didn't work out."