Five quotes from the Fast 6 at Long Beach Grand Prix

The IndyCar drivers who qualified first through sixth at Long Beach on Saturday — Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal — held a smile-filled news conference after the session, cracking jokes and laughing through several exchanges.

Here are five of the best quotes from the Fast 6:

Josef Newgarden, on how impossibly close to the wall the drivers get at Long Beach:

“It’s kind of like when you’re pulling out of a parking spot and it’s tight on both sides and you back up and you start to turn and you’re like, ‘Man, am I going to miss that car in front of me?’ And your nose is like right there.

“Like 50 percent of the time, I’m just like, ‘Well, I think I’m going to make it. If I don’t, I hit him.’ (Shrugs)

“That’s kind of what it feels like. All the time on every lap, you’re just like, ‘Argh, I could hit — or maybe not.’ Most of the time you don’t. That’s what it’s like for me. It’s kind of fun.”

Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud on starting alongside each other Sunday despite their incident at the start of last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix:

Rahal: “(Last year) was like a very minor love tap.”

Pagenaud: (Scoffs in disagreement.)

Rahal: “It’s going to be a lot harder to hit him when he’s next to me. So if I’m going to do it again, I’m going to try really hard to do it.’

Pagenaud: “I think you were next to me…”

Rahal: “No, I was behind you and…”

Alexander Rossi: “It was like a torpedo.”

Pagenaud: “Yeah, a torpedo!”

Rahal: “That’s Power’s issue now, right?”

Will Power: “You behind me?”

Rahal: “Yeah.”

Power: “The difference is I’m from Toowoomba, see, and we fight.”

Rahal: “I’m really not worried about you. I’ve got like 50 pounds on you.”

Pagenaud: “I might not brake in Turn 1 just to make sure I don’t get hit.”

Rahal: “Actually, I would be perfectly fine with that. If you want to do that, that would help. You could like take out everybody and I’ll be good.”

Simon Pagenaud, off to a poor start this season, on proclaiming he was “never gone” after he made the final round of qualifying:

Pagenaud (deadpan): “It’s just my ego coming out. I’m a pretentious person, so I just said these things. Why not say it, right?”

Reporter: “I was wondering if you’re feeling unloved or ignored or if there’s something going on…”

Will Power, his teammate: “I have been ignoring him a little bit.”

Pagenaud: “Actually I have plenty of love, mostly from Will, a lot from Josef (Newgarden), too much sometimes. But no, I feel confident, so I think ego comes out when you’re confident. I think that’s what’s going on maybe.”

Reporter: “Do you have a chip on your shoulder?”

Pagenaud: “A chip? Chips are for dogs, I think. So I don’t have a chip, no. It’s all good. I’m pretty focused, 100 percent. Yeah, might have shown some aggressiveness, fire — and that’s not a bad thing.”

Alexander Rossi, responding to a reporter who said it was tough to pass at Long Beach:

“I don’t know how true that is. I don’t think it’s that hard to pass.”

Graham Rahal on why the drivers seemed so happy after making the Fast Six (final round of qualifying) but not winning the pole:

Rahal: “It’s not even the top six anymore. You feel like if you’re in the top 10, you’ve been solid. Didn’t used to be that way. Obviously, we’d all like to be on pole. It would be even better. But I think you really have to feel a sense of like accomplishment as a team. You can see it across all our mechanics, too; everybody is happy. You make it to the Fast Six, you’ve really done something.

“In my first years in this, if you made it to the Fast Six then you were like decent. And nowadays it’s just like the gap — like this morning, 1.1 seconds across from 1st to 25th over a street course this long (almost two miles) with all the bumps and curves and this and that — nowhere else in the world will you find racing that competitive, period. So I think you should feel proud if you had a good day.”

The Top Five: Breaking down the Chicago and Sonoma races

Five thoughts after NASCAR’s playoff opener at Chicago and the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma…

1. U-S-A, U-S-A!

In 2012, when Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American to win an IndyCar title in six years, there was hope his victory would help lead to a revitalization of open-wheel racing in the United States.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps that was in part because IndyCar doesn’t make enough ripples in the national sports scene to have an impact, but it also may have been because Hunter-Reay wasn’t able to finish in the top five in points since.

So it’s with a note of caution here when we say Josef Newgarden really could be the next great hope for helping to rejuvenate American open-wheel racing — but only if everything falls into place over the next several years.

Even before he signed with Team Penske this season, Newgarden was a tremendously marketable young driver. He’s a 26-year-old from suburban Nashville with tons of charisma, talent and the face of a movie star. Now he’s a champion — thanks to a near-flawless weekend at Sonoma — with plenty of years ahead of him.

It might be a fallacy that a big-time American star would really boost IndyCar to the next level, but that’s often been a debate that doesn’t get a chance to get settled because there hasn’t really been one. This generation of IndyCar has been dominated by South Americans and Europeans, and the top American open-wheel talents have largely ended up getting funneled into the NASCAR pipeline (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, etc.).

Look, Newgarden is going to have to win a lot. He’s going to have to win more titles and an Indy 500 or two. But should Newgarden continue to shine, there’s a chance his visibility could rise on a national scale at the same time IndyCar does. And as the series champion, he’ll have more of a platform now to make an impact with sports fans.

“We don’t want a championship filled with just American drivers, but it’s important to have the best of America in it,” said Newgarden, who celebrated with an American flag draped around his shoulders. “We have to have the best from Europe and from anywhere overseas, because if it’s just Americans running, it wouldn’t mean anything. But certainly, having successful Americans is a big deal, too.”

2. Missed opportunity

This might anger all my new friends in IndyCar (seriously, everyone is so nice here!), but the Sonoma race didn’t do the series any favors in terms of winning over some NASCAR fans.

With the Chicagoland race serving as a lead-in on NBCSN, IndyCar had a golden opportunity to show stock car fans how compelling its brand of racing can be. Instead, Sonoma was a caution-free race with little drama — at least not the kind NASCAR fans are used to.

IndyCar fans probably love that, because they are fiercely proud of their purer brand of racing — no stages, no playoffs, no questionable cautions (even though they do have double points races and push to pass).

But here’s the thing: IndyCar needs to dip into the pool of NASCAR fans — present and former — to provide its best opportunity for growth. A mainstream sports fan is going to be harder for open-wheel racing to hook than a fan who is already predisposed to liking race cars.

I hope IndyCar continues to take steps toward being more and more relevant again in the sports world — and at the same time is able to coexist with NASCAR to have two very healthy forms of motorsport. Though their fans may argue (RIP my mentions this weekend), everyone still shares the common bond of being a race fan — which is becoming a rare breed these days.

3. Truex, again

Even when Martin Truex Jr. and his team screw up, like they did on Sunday, he still finds a way to win by more than seven seconds in a playoff race.

That’s a sobering fact for the competition, which looked like it might have a chance to beat Truex after he sped on pit road and later had to make an extra pit stop for missing lug nuts, which left him in 17th place.

The No. 78 car is so fast that it can overcome seemingly anything, though — at least if it happens early enough in the race — and Truex was back to the lead in plenty of time.

Truex now has 58 playoff points for Rounds 2 and 3, and the only realistic chance of beating him will come when the four contenders battle straight-up for the championship at Homestead.

In the meantime, expect a lot more races like Chicagoland in the coming weeks.

“We really don’t have any tracks I feel like we’re not good at,” Truex said. “It’s just being confident each and every week no matter where we’re going is the difference. We don’t have any big question marks on the schedule anymore.”

4. Keselowski’s great tweet

Brad Keselowski pissed off the Toyota NASCAR contingent this weekend with his tweet, but personally, I loved it.

People have been complaining lately that too many NASCAR storylines revolve around off-track issues. Well, guess what? This drama was about on-track stuff. It was about performance and rules and had everything to do with the playoffs.

That’s great! I mean, it resulted in Kyle Busch tweeting “STFU” with a crying emoji to another driver. Wild! NASCAR needs rivalries like this to add spice to the races.

Honestly, it’s great to see Busch and Keselowski not even pretending to be civil. All the drivers these days seem like they are way too tight, with the group text and drivers council and bike rides and wives/kids hanging out. It’s nice for them to get along, but it’s refreshing for everyone else when there’s some real sourness between two of the top competitors. It makes it more fun to watch.

And by the way, there was nothing wrong with what Keselowski tweeted. Politicking for manufacturer advantages has been a part of NASCAR for a long time, and that’s what he was obviously doing.

5. Burnout talk

OK, let’s have a chat about burnouts for a second. It seems like NASCAR race winners routinely destroy their cars on purpose these days — and not just in the name of celebration.

Today’s burnouts are intentionally designed to cause tire blowouts, which mess up the back of the car and make it harder for NASCAR to run the cars through post-race tech inspection.

A decade ago, drivers did kickass, smoky burnouts without blowing off the rear quarterpanels. But that’s not the case now. It seems like every winner does it, and some drivers (coughDennyHamlincough) have even tapped the wall in the process.

We know this makes a difference because cars can be illegal if they’re off a thousandth of an inch, and destroying part of the car removes that area from scrutiny. Fair or not, the appearance is not good.

NASCAR has indicated it does not want to step in and outlaw burnouts or institute a rule that limits them. After all, fans might complain that NASCAR officials are the fun police and they’re taking yet another enjoyable part away from the sport.

But drivers are smart enough to know how to do a burnout without shredding their tires. So perhaps in the interest of maintaining a level playing field for the playoffs, NASCAR should decide burnouts themselves are OK — but tire blowouts are not.

A NASCAR fan guide to the IndyCar championship race

Guess what race is on Sunday right after the Chicagoland race on the same channel (NBCSN)?

Yep, it’s the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale — a race which will decide the championship from among six eligible drivers.

I’m here at Sonoma and am going to be blowing your timelines up about the race, so you might as well watch with me. If you haven’t followed IndyCar much this year or are just a casual fan, here’s a quick guide to the race to get you caught up:

What’s at stake?

Sonoma Raceway is the 17th and final race of the IndyCar season, and six drivers can still win the title. They are the four Team Penske drivers — rising star Josef Newgarden, defending series champ Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves — plus four-time series champion Scott Dixon and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Who has the advantage?

Before answering that, let’s take a look at the current driver point standings.

  1. Josef Newgarden  –Leader–
  2. Scott Dixon -4
  3. Helio Castroneves -23
  4. Simon Pagenaud -35
  5. Will Power -69
  6. Alexander Rossi -85

Those have been updated after Saturday’s qualifying session, because IndyCar awards one bonus point to the pole winner — and Newgarden put down a monster, track-record lap to start from P1.

Still, it’s tough to say who has the edge right now. In Friday’s two practice sessions, Newgarden had the quickest overall time. But in Saturday’s practice, Pagenaud, Dixon and Power all went even faster.

Plus, top five drivers in the point standings were also the top five drivers in final practice (just in a different order). Since they were only separated by 0.44 second, it really could be anyone’s race among the contenders.

So how does the championship race work?

Sonoma is a double points event — one of only two on the schedule, along with the Indy 500. That twist could play a massive role in the outcome of the championship, because the points are soooo close.

At a typical IndyCar race, first place is worth 50 points and second place gets 40. But at Sonoma, it’s 100 for first place and only 80 for second — a 20-point gap between first and second!

That means Newgarden, Dixon and likely Castroneves (depending on bonus points) are all in situations where a Sonoma victory will mean the championship (which has happened the last two years).

And really, Pagenaud isn’t in a bad spot, either (though he could use some help from his competition finishing off the podium). Power and Rossi are much bigger longshots at this point, even if they win.

How did they get to this point?

Newgarden has a series-leading four wins and eight podium finishes this season, but his lead is only four points thanks to a gaffe in the most recent race at Watkins Glen.

After entering the Glen with a 31-point lead over Dixon — thanks to winning three of four races — Newgarden locked up his tires in the pits while avoiding teammate Will Power and slid into the guardrail. That cost him 28 points of his lead, which was whittled to just four.

Dixon has just one win but has made finished on the podium seven times — second in the series. And he’s going up against the entire Penske team, which has been the most consistent this season.

What are they saying?

— Newgarden, who was totally fired up after his track-record lap to get the pole — his first since 2015 — is going into the race with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

“If I drop the ball and totally ball it up this weekend, I’m still going to be pretty happy with this year,” the 26-year-old American said. “That’s not to say I’m going to settle for that or that I’m looking to settle for something like that.

“But the only way I think you can approach this and get the most out of it and try and treat it like any other weekend. The moment you think, ‘Hey, this is championship week — you mess it up, you’re not the champion,’ then I think that can put you in a wrong place mentally.”

— Power, who qualified second, has a fast car but needs some help to pull off his second championship.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said. “I mean, if Scott and Josef have a bad day, I can be right there. Yeah, see how it all plays out.”

— Pagenaud, who won this race en route to the championship last season, is feeling confident after qualifying third.

“Quite satisfied,” he said after his lap. “Overall it’s awesome for Team Penske, 1-2-3-4 once again here. A testament to the team doing such a good job. Nothing’s lost. Tomorrow is a long race. Lots of tire wear. I’m hoping for a really strong showing.”

— Speculation about Castrovenes’ future has been swirling lately, but it would certainly be nice for him to pull off an improbable title at age 42. He’s in a virtual win-and-clinch situation since there it’s a double points race.

“We wanted this championship as bad as anybody,” he said after qualifying fourth. “We do have a chance. We’re going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.”

— Dixon, the best driver of his generation, knows he has his work cut out for him. But it’s not like anyone can dismiss his chances.

“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there,” he said. “I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.”

Social Spotlight with Josef Newgarden

Each week, I’ll be asking a member of the motorsports community about their social media usage. This week: Josef Newgarden of Team Penske’s IndyCar program. I spoke to Newgarden at Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the Indy 500.

I was just looking at your Twitter account. One thing that jumped out at me: You have only liked one tweet. Are you anti-like?

Well I guess everyone uses the platform differently, right? I’ve never really liked photos. I liked that one photo of all the helmets at the Indianapolis 500 lined up, which is a very cool photo.

You know, I’m like OCD almost. I’m either gonna like a ton of stuff or not like anything. I guess it’s weird that I have one like, but yeah, I’ve never really used it for that.

With Twitter, I more so use it for responding to people. It’s a great platform to answer questions — just cause people can ask you whenever — or just give out information about where you are or where you can meet, something like that.

I like a ton of tweets, because it’s my way of saying, “I acknowledge that.” But I always feel like if somebody was going to my account they’d see all these random-ass tweets that make no sense and have no order. So I kind of like your clean, uncluttered view.

Yeah, I mean that’s how I am. It’s very OCD I guess, but it’s just the way I’ve always been so I have not changed it. I’ll try to answer more, because I’m with you — a like is like an acknowledgment and it’s nice for someone to see that you like their post or that you at least saw it. But I try to answer as much as I can. I probably should answer a lot more, but if I’m gonna acknowledge it, I normally just answer to it.

Are you using Twitter as your newsfeed? Do you look at it every day in the morning?

Yeah, I do actually. I still think Twitter is probably the best social platform for quick news. (With) Facebook, you get kind of the same; it’s more blown up content and it’s kind of a bigger view of news. But Twitter’s really easy to just ramble through everything and it can always just give you a link to go somewhere to look at something bigger.

But yeah, I like it for (news). I like following informational sites (like) Wired.com if you wanna see something with tech. I mean it just can be any of these news outlets. I think it’s really helpful for that. So I like following it and then for me as a driver, I think it’s great for giving people information on what you’re doing or where you’re gonna be if there’s a meet-and-greet or something like that.

Now on the downside of this, Twitter can be sort of nasty at times. There are some trolls on there. How do you deal with that: Do you block people? Do you mute people? Do you just ignore it?

I just ignore it — I honestly do. I don’t even reply. There’s been a couple times where I’ve replied just cause I couldn’t help myself I guess, but I’ll never follow a reply. I’ll say something, have my two cents, and then just be done with it.

If it gets worse and starts spiraling out of control, I don’t continue. It’s literally one thing: That’s what I said (and leave it at that). And if I said something wrong, I’ll try to apologize, because it’s easy to get looked at wrong on social media for saying something that you didn’t mean or it had come across the wrong way.

But for the most part, I just ignore everything. There’s a lot of people that say a lot of stuff, and you just gotta be really good at just letting it go. I think that’s the best thing: To just let it go. And it’s probably the best way to handle it, cause these guys or girls, what they really want is a response. So if you don’t respond to them, it’s kind of the best thing to do, in my opinion.

We’ve all had situations where sometimes we’re following somebody and we’re like, “I don’t wanna follow this anymore. These tweets are irrelevant, they’re too much,” or whatever. How do you handle that? Do you just unfollow or do you mute people?

(Laughs) I think I’d go with the ignore thing again. I’ll see stuff I don’t like and I’ll just blow past it because I’ve gotten very efficient at scrolling fast. If I’m seeing stuff that I don’t wanna see, I’m just scrolling by it.

Even my girlfriend is like, “How are you even reading any of this?” And it’s literally just I’ll read one word and I’ll either like it or I don’t, so I just go past it. So I’ve not had to mute anyone, not really had to unfollow anybody because of that. I just ignore it.

What’s your take on Snapchat? I’ve seen you do some Snapchat takeovers, but do you have your own Snapchat account?

I can’t get into the Snapchat thing. I find it fascinating, because young kids now are — I mean, I’m a kid still I guess, technically — but you know, just young people that use Snapchat are so weird and hilarious, right? Like, people just have no shame. There’s no shame. And I don’t think people realize that if you put something on the Internet, it is permanent. OK? I don’t care if you delete it, it’s always there. You have put it out and into the world and it’s always in the world now. It’s gonna be there somewhere.

But people today, they don’t care. They love it. They want to share it. For me, I struggle because it’s like, Snapchat is a really constant thing. Like people want a photo here, photo here, video, video, video, like constantly little quick five-second blurbs.

So I feel like you’re missing out on the experience. I’d rather have one nice video or one nice photo of it and take the rest of the time to enjoy that experience. That’s why I can’t get into Snapchat.

That is true though. You go to a concert or something and everybody’s Snapchat is open. Or even here on 500 race day, I’m gonna walk around and anybody that’s under 20, they’re on Snapchat, and that’s the ultimate looking-through-your-screen thing.

Yeah, it’s a love/hate cause I’ve gotten sucked into the social media thing where I don’t post a ton — but I’m always on it. I’m always looking at it just cause I’m trying to understand it, what works, what doesn’t work, what people want to see, what they don’t want to see, what other people are doing. I get sucked into that game and I love and I hate it.

Social media is so great because it’s really a great tool, it’s awesome; the connectivity of it is amazing. But at the same time I also hate it because I just want to enjoy whatever I’m doing, you know? I want to be in the moment, in the present. I’m a little bit old school, I guess. It was almost nice when we didn’t have all this technology. So it’s a love/hate. I love technology, but I also hate it at the end of the day.

You said that you’ve tried to observe what works, what doesn’t, things like that. In your theory, what is your general philosophy on how much to share, what makes people respond to you, things like that?

I do think people want you to be real. I try to be as authentic as possible. Whatever I say is me; there’s no sugarcoating it. Maybe it’s a little bit politically correct sometimes, but it’s my opinion, so I’ll always be honest about that.

I’ve always tried to keep my personal life out it, which a lot of people think is a mistake because most people want to see the inside world that they normally wouldn’t, and that’s one of the nice things about social media — you get to see things that you wouldn’t normally get to see if you didn’t know a person, right

But I try to keep that separate. I use it much for more the professional side of, “Here’s what I’m doing professionally. Here’s what I’m doing in racing,” or it has something to do with racing. That’s all I use it for and I try to maximize that as best as I can.

I think I noticed that on your Instagram as well, because if you scroll through your Instagram feed almost everything is you at the track. It’s not stuff like, “Oh, here’s me doing this,” that kind of thing.

Yeah, pretty much. I use the platforms differently. Like Instagram I use more as an artwork page. I think it’s just beautiful photos of race cars, maybe some photos of me that people want to see within racing, but I normally like seeing photos of race cars myself, just really cool looking photos.

I’m a really big fan of photography actually. I’m not a great photographer, I’m not a photographer myself, but I really admire a lot of the photographers within the sport. Gosh, they get some awesome images sometimes, so I like sharing those and I also like seeing those.

That’s sort of what I use Instagram for, which really is what Instagram was originally made for: It’s a photo-sharing site. Twitter is more just, you can post a photo that doesn’t have to be beautiful; it’s just information, right?

Sometimes I try and be kind of random on my Twitter. I do try to show people my random side, which everyone I think has to some degree. You know, you’ll be eating fries or whatever one day and like you’ll have a thought on French fries and you just wanna share that. It has nothing to do with anything; it’s just a random sentence. I’ll sometimes do that on Twitter as well.

Is Facebook going the way of the dinosaurs like MySpace, or do you think that has a life?

I think it has a life, I just think it has an older life. That’s where all the moms, the grandfathers — it’s all old, you know? That’s not a bad thing: everyone has to have a demographic. I think Facebook’s just become more of an older demographic. There’s a place for that; you want to share with those types of folks as well. So I still get on it.

I look at Facebook and see a lot of things that’s going on. I do find it interesting (that) Facebook video has become very cool. For me, it’s become more of a younger reason to use it just because you don’t want to go to YouTube and search stuff; it’s really easy to see popular videos on Facebook now. I think they’ve done a great job with that. So if I use Facebook, it’s either to look at videos or to post a video. That’s, I think, one of the more useful tools for it.

From a sponsor standpoint and a team standpoint, are they telling you, “Hey, we want to see you on here, we want to see you doing this?” Is there a lot of that that goes on?

Yeah, for sure. I think you have to temper it. I think with either sponsorships or teams, you kind of measure your marketability. You measure how sell-able you are, how popular you are. It’s kind of terrible, but it’s just the way it is nowadays: everyone puts a value on social media. And so you have to have a presence almost, you’re forced to because of those factors, but I think I try to stay true to myself.

If there’s something I don’t wanna do on it, I just don’t do it. If it’s something that a sponsor really wants me to do and I don’t love it, then I try and spin it into something that is more authentic to me. I think that is always more impactful than just putting up an ad. You put up an ad and people can see it immediately like, “This is just a posted tweet that someone wanted you to put out.” And no one wants that — no one wants to see it. It’s not gonna help the company at the end of the day. So you gotta make it authentic and real, and I think that resonates a lot better with people.

Do you have one or two favorite people to follow on Twitter that people may not be following themselves right now?

I gotta say, probably the greatest person on Twitter, and I think a lot of people would agree, is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Now, he does the exact opposite of what I do — but he is a master at it. If you’re gonna go full-in and you’re gonna show people your world, I don’t think anyone has done it better than Dale Jr. He really masters it well. I think he’s fun to follow. For me, that’s why you follow someone on social media, is for that kind of stuff that I just said I don’t wanna do — and he’s probably the best at it. So I enjoy following him.

I just enjoy following all of the drivers because you get to see what everyone’s up to, whether it’s Jimmie Johnson or other NASCAR guys or it’s the IndyCar drivers like Scott Dixon. I enjoy following motorsports. Fernando Alonso, it’s been fun to follow him. Obviously, this is a new journey for him at Indianapolis so it’s interesting to see how he perceives the event, how he shows people the event. So I love following drivers.

Again, I like following news feeds, just different tech sites, any sort of news outlet that’s gonna give you good information on stuff that you’re interested in. I follow all those types of stuff.

Thanks to Dover International Speedway for sponsoring the 12 Questions and Social Spotlight over the past couple months. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race this weekend, please consider using my ticket link.