The track performances don't lie: Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing is getting a lot closer to the front, as you saw at Motegi. We're not right there yet, as you saw in Chicago.
When I was trying to make the pass for the lead, you could see we're still lacking that last little bit of speed, but our rate of progress from joining the IndyCar Series in 2008 to here, in September '09, is excellent. We're still not Ganassi, we're still not Penske, but we're edging up, no question.
At Chicago, OK, we only left with fifth place, but I was happy we were in the mix. I was a little unsure of what lap we were on toward the end. When my spotter, Lee, is speaking to me a lot because the racetrack is so busy, I don't have time to look up at the scoring pylon, and I'm sure that's true of everyone apart from the leader. For Motegi, we improvised and put a lap charter on the steering wheel, so every time we went past the beacon, it would add a lap. Pretty simple stuff to do, but useful: If I had known what lap we were on at Chicago, maybe I wouldn't have made my move so early. I'd have waited a little bit longer and might have got third: it wouldn't have won us the race, though.
But I can't be disappointed: the No. 02 McDonalds car has made a hell of a run here at the end of the season. There's still work to do, but we're not far off. We made a lot of gains from Kentucky onward, really figuring out the oval car. We still need to work on our road courses, obviously, but not the car: just our luck! We've qualified well all year, but we can't get a good finish, and it's just been a case of errors. The Mid-Ohio race was my fault – I had too much rear brake-bias, locked the rears, and went shooting off the course. At Infineon…I can't say too much about it. The driveshaft would have broken later in the race, anyway, so that's just bad luck. We only ran 20 laps there once it was sorted, and we ended up (I think) with second-fastest race lap.
We've just got to get luckier. Put Watkins Glen aside, because we really qualified fifth there and got penalized because the car was too light, and no one's going to tell me two pounds would have put us down in 15th! So our worst qualifying on a road course was seventh at Long Beach; our worst qualifying anywhere was 12th at Texas because…well, just because we were horrible! So I think we've got to be pretty happy. Ignore Texas and Iowa and we've been close everywhere, and I haven't been at a circuit this year thinking, “We've got no chance this weekend,” and I think everyone on the team is excited by that.
No, Newman/Haas/Lanigan is not getting wins yet at the rate we were in the last few years of Champ Car, but everyone feels the momentum picking up again and I don't think there's anyone on the team that feels down. I think everyone feels a lot of victories to come for this group. I don't want to say I was part of a year when the team didn't get a win – and there is one race left – but truthfully I just say, “Hey, we all tried our hardest, some of us made mistakes, myself included.” We all are keeping our heads down, focused on the last race of the year, and then hopefully all the contract stuff will get sorted and we can continue this through many years to come.
You can see it from the results that Oriol Servia's arrival – or return, I guess – to Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has made us a better team. We were very much a one-car team until these last few races. The No. 06 car has had its best results in the last four weekends and Oriol is a guy who, with all his experience, is just so valuable. It's a shame he can't find a ride that's stable. He brings so much to a team because of his knowledge and the guy has an engineering degree – he's just smart. So he was good for us – he helped us out and he's fun. There are a lot more smiles on a lot of people's faces, and it's just a whole different deal than before. We had a good clean battle in Motegi. Actually, at one point I did give him the cold shoulder, but at the same time, I was thinking, “I've really got to get maximum points here, because I have to catch Marco and Danica in the championship.” Ultimately, I thought we had more speed anyway.
For the final race, though, Oriol's being replaced by Alex Lloyd, so that will be interesting. I'd like to have been able to attend Alex's first test: I'll be in Orlando, actually, when my new teammate is testing at Homestead, so it should have been feasible, but I have IndyCar Series promotional duty down there, with sponsors and potential sponsors. I am a firm believer – I'm not just saying this – that there are a lot of positives for the series at the moment. Just look at the racing lately – I thought the last race at Motegi produced the best racing we've had at that circuit. So hopefully we can capitalize on that with increased sponsorship.
A lot of people were worried by the racing in Chicago, a lot of others thought it was just a fantastic spectacle. I fall right in the middle! The racing needs to be that way for the fans, but as I said to someone, “That's OK, let's have it that way…but let's not have it getting any more exciting, or someone's going to end up in pain.” I've got to confess, I was more nervous before that race than any other race in my career. After practice the night before, with as much passing as was going on, and three-wide, I just thought, “This is going to get insane.” Once I got out there, there were still times when I thought it was a little much, but it was fun.
The thing is, if you race up front with the guys that are good, it's not a problem; they give you room. Hopefully, we're going to continue racing at the front, so no problem!-Graham