INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden is one of four Team Penske drivers in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 who are hoping to give team owner Roger Penkse his record-extending 18th Indianapolis 500 triumph.
Newgarden joins polesitter Simon Pagenaud and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power as one of the three Penske drivers to qualify in the top-10. He starts in the middle of row three after qualifying his Chevrolet at 228.396 mph over four laps.
The fourth Team Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, will start 12th as he pursues his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.
With three Team Penske drivers and three Ed Carpenter Racing drivers dominating the Fast Nine, are they the favorites or are a few of them the underdog?
“I think it’s hard to be an underdog when you’re a Penske driver,” Newgarden said Thursday during Indianapolis 500 Media Day. “I really do, just because we’ve all got great equipment. We’ve all seen each other’s stuff. We’ve all been able to follow each other quite closely.
“We’ve all got a great shot. For sure Helio has got great credentials. Everyone knows that. Will Power is now on the credential list with his victory last year, but Simon Pagenaud and me, I think we are right there with them, and it’s hard to beat these guys. You’d like to think it’s hard for them to beat me, but we thrive off that, as a team environment we thrive off trying to beat each other in a positive way, and I think it helps push us to be better than the rest. So, I think we’ve got a good shot.”
Newgarden believes the drivers starting up front have their cars set up differently than those starting in the mid-pack because of the air turbulence that will impact those cars at the start of the race.
“I think people that start 15th will set their cars up different than first, for sure,” Newgarden explained. “I think guys like Scott Dixon (starting 18th) are going to be pretty loaded up (with downforce). He knows he’s got to come through traffic, and he’ll always have the capability like all of us will to take it out.
“That’s kind of part of your process throughout the race is when do you have downforce on, when do you not have it on, and you’ve got to judge that. Wherever you’re at in the field, you’ve got to make a decision on how much you want on at what specific time. It’s kind of part of the strategy in itself.
“I think he’ll think about it. We’ll probably have a different strategy than the guy in 33rd.”
Newgarden believes his best chance at winning the Indianapolis 500 came in 2016, when he started second and finished third in an Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. He started fourth and finished eighth last year for Team Penske.
“I honestly thought it was the year in 2016,” Newgarden said. “I thought we would have a shot. I think that was my only real chance so far of winning this race was that year. We were so close at the end of it, and it just didn’t happen. But that’s why this race every year that you have an opportunity to be here, think you’ve got to put yourself in position, give yourself a chance.
“That’s No. 1. Give yourself a chance to win the race and then hopefully it all works out.”
It’s the biggest race of the year in any form of racing, but it also plays a major role in the NTT IndyCar Series championship. Newgarden is the IndyCar points leader heading into the Indianapolis 500 with a six-point lead over Dixon.
“You want to win it at all costs, but if you have a great race here, it has the ability to catapult you into a very favorable position in the championship,” Newgarden said. “It has a lot of knock‑on effect. You’ve got to have a good event here for the whole year, and you want to have a good event here because it’s the Indy 500.
“So, it does a lot more than just giving you the milk to celebrate. It does a whole wealth of great things for you.”