Josef Newgarden’s best years as an NTT IndyCar Series driver may still be ahead of him. The 28-year-old Team Penske racer has won two IndyCar Series championships and owns 14 series victories.
There is one victory missing from the Tennessean’s résumé and it’s a race that is very important to his team owner, Roger Penske.
Newgarden has yet to win the Indianapolis 500.
Ironically, Newgarden has prepared himself mentally and emotionally for the possibility that he could have an outstanding career that doesn’t include an Indy victory.
“Everyone knows it’s the hardest race to win,” Newgarden said. “I’ve come to peace with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though. That place does not owe you anything. That place doesn’t care how many races you have won. It doesn’t care how fast you are that month of May. It doesn’t care how many championships you have won; it just doesn’t owe you anything.
“If it never happens, it never happens.
“It’s relatively early in a career to make that assessment, but for me, that is how that place works,” Newgarden continued. “Michael Andretti never won at that place and he probably should have won it multiple times. It’s one of those tricky places where sometimes it doesn’t work out for somebody and sometimes it works out four times for a person.
“I do the same thing every year. I prepare the same. I think the key is to put yourself in position at the end of the race to win the race every year, and hopefully one of those years, it converts.
“That is all you can do.”
Newgarden’s bid for a chance to win the Indy 500 will have to wait three extra months with the 104th running of the event pushed back to Aug. 23 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The season is hoped to start at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6, again that depends on if society can return from lockdown.
Newgarden spent most of March, all of April and May at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn., along with his bride, Ashley Welch. The two were married on Oct. 7, 2018.
Because of the social-distancing restrictions and mandatory stay-at-home orders, drivers such as Newgarden have been working out at home instead of going to fitness centers. He gets guidance from a trainer from St. Vincent’s Sports Performance, who prepares his workout program through emails and phone calls. He’s purchased some additional workout equipment for his house, including a skiing machine.
Mentally, Newgarden is preparing for the season to start in June. At some point in his thoughts, the Indianapolis 500 looms ahead.
As a Penske driver who has never won the Indianapolis 500, does he start to obsess over it?
“Maybe it does turn into that, but it hasn’t for me yet,” Newgarden admitted. “Right now, I’m comfortable with the fact that maybe I’ll never win this race. But I’m also open to the fact maybe I will win it five years in a row. That would be cool. I think it is possible. At the same time, it may never happen.
“You show up every year and do the same job. I don’t think you should overthink it when you show up,” Newgarden added. “Obsessing might lead to that. You have to work on your process, if you have a good process. For me, it’s showing up, making a good race car that goes all the way to the end, fighting to say in the front group, getting to lap 170, putting yourself in position, then having the final shootout. That is what that place turns into.
“What has gotten tough at Indy is it used to be if you had a fast car, you didn’t have to work that hard to stay up front and put yourself in a position at the end,” he continued. “Now, you have to really work hard to stay up front. It has gotten so competitive now, you are fighting all race long, just to position yourself at the end. The position at the end is critical, but it’s not a given if you have a fast car. You have to fight to stay up there. For me, that’s how the race has morphed over the last six or eight years.
“I’m not obsessing over it yet. It is paramount at our team, but you can only do so much.”
Penske is the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18 victories in the world’s biggest race. On Jan. 6, Penske became the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions.
In Newgarden’s mind, the desire to win the Indianapolis 500 has not changed because Penske owns the track.
“I don’t think it changes,” he said. “I can’t speak for Roger, but knowing Roger, he will take a step back from the team side and he will be much more overall. I think Roger’s passion and legacy will be about preserving the tradition and the integrity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That is the place that Roger loves the most. It is what built his career in motorsports and in business.
“For him, it will change. For him, it’s not important just for his team to win,” Newgarden noted. “He’s already done that. He is the titan of the sport when it comes to winning at Indy. Now, it’s about how he can help Indianapolis more so on a global scale than just the team side.
“For me as a driver, it doesn’t change, but it probably does for Roger.”
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