CONCORD, N.C. – Josef Newgarden got to have a little bit of fun Friday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The newly crowned NTT IndyCar Series champion got to turn a handful of exhibition laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 2.28-mile ROVAL configuration in his Team Penske Chevrolet shortly after Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying.
Newgarden completed six full laps at speed, turning laps unofficially 14 seconds faster than that the lap posted by Bank of America ROVAL 400 polesitter William Byron during NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Friday afternoon.
“It honestly felt really good. I didn’t know what it was going to feel like,” Newgarden said after climbing out of his car in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s victory lane in front of a mass of media members. “Everything was pretty smooth for the most part.”
Newgarden, a native of Tennessee, said prior to turning his laps he was curious how the Firestone tires on his car would react to the Goodyear rubber laid down on the track by the NASCAR teams throughout Friday.
“I was most interested in the tire difference,” Newgarden said. “When you run a weekend with multiple series that have different tire makes and different cars, normally when you go out after another session, you have to clean the track up. I was only one car, so I can’t clean the track for myself really fast.
“I thought there was really no issue having two different tire makes, and that was my big concern going into it. It was interesting to feel that. It felt good. It wasn’t bad. The banking was really neat, just because the wheel was really, really heavy. We don’t have power steering in these vehicles so it was pretty loaded up for a long period of time through the banking.”
Newgarden’s laps on Friday were the first laps turned by an Indy car at Charlotte Motor Speedway since a tragic accident in the 1999 VisionAire 500K. Three spectators were killed when debris from a crash flew into the stands.
The remainder of the race, which was run on the 1.5-mile oval, was canceled and Indy cars haven’t been back to Charlotte Motor Speedway since.
At least, not until Friday when Newgarden turned his exhibition laps.
“It was a blast. The whole point of this really was to celebrate with Pennzoil. It’s been such a great year for them,” Newgarden said. “We won the 500 together as a team (with Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud). Joey (Logano) won his championship last year and we’re kind of still celebrating that and he’s still the champ. And we just got another championship on the IndyCar side.
“It’s really been a cool opportunity. It all originated just to showcase the partnership and the performance that they give us. I think it ended up turning into a really good discussion point.”