Team Penske cars led all but two laps during Saturday’s first race of the Iowa doubleheader weekend. Newgarden led 129 laps while Will Power led 119. After such a dominant performance, Newgarden exited the car not to cheer, but to complain to his teammate.
“I've never seen it that bad here,” said Newgarden in the post-race press conference, referring to the driving etiquette of lapped traffic.
“There's 20 laps to go in the race, and I was getting driven like it was literally to the death for the end of the Indy 500. It was just crazy. I couldn't believe the way people were mirror driving.”
Throughout the final quarter of the race, Newgarden, McLaughlin, and third-place finisher Pato O’Ward all encountered tense moments when lapped cars refused to yield to the leaders.
No one was singled out in the press conference for the unsportsmanlike driving, but the drivers did mention that most of the more egregious offenders were the usual suspects.
“There's a lot of guys out there that were racing the leader very hard, mirror driving, and just at times it was quite dangerous,” said McLaughlin.
“Sometimes you get to some guys, and they're just not very gentleman-like,” said O’Ward when asked about lapped traffic. “I had some moments in there where it wasn't all turning left for sure.”
Newgarden went as far as to threaten retaliation if it happened again.
“There's just a point where you've got to understand that that comes back around,” said Newgarden. “If you do that to someone, I'm going to fence you the next time I see you. If you're the leader the next time, I am going to do you so dirty if you did that to me.”
The unwritten rule in racing regarding lapped traffic is generally that lapped cars are expected to yield to race leaders so as not to affect the outcome of the race. Even in a battle for position, lapped cars are still expected to move over for the leader before resuming.
On a short track like Iowa, lapped traffic can generate quickly and immediately start to affect the leaders’ lap times as they navigate through the rear of the field. Only the top-five cars finished on the lead lap Saturday.
“Normally if you're the leader, you're not getting a handout, but you're at least getting the courtesy that you are the leader and you're about to get lapped,” said Newgarden. “You don't have to pull over, but just don't be aggressive and weave in front of the leader.”
Drivers have made calls in the past for race control to place a greater emphasis on flagging slower cars when the leaders are approaching. Currently in IndyCar, it is legal for a car about to be put a lap down to defend against the leader. Drivers are not typically penalized for impeding the leaders until they are officially scored as a lap down.
Despite the frustration, Josef Newgarden made up ground on championship leader Alex Palou in the points standings. Newgarden entered Saturday’s race third in points and now heads into the second race of the doubleheader second in the title race with a double-digit points deficit rather than a triple-digit deficit.
Newgarden’s title chances might still be slim, but another win on Sunday would continue his oval dominance in 2023.
“I'm focused on being better tomorrow because I'm going to assume that everyone else is going to pick up their game,” said Newgarden.