Newgarden’s career has taken a similar path to a former Team Penske star — Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish won back-to-back Indy Racing League championships with Panther Racing in 2001 and ’02 and was the top American driver in the series at that time. He joined Team Penske in 2004.
Hornish seemed to excel everywhere except the Indianapolis 500.
Finally, in 2006, Hornish won the Indianapolis 500, passing Marco Andretti only yards from the checkered flag.
“I’ve never put a parallel between me and Sam, but you never know if you are going to win an event like that,” Newgarden said. “I never tried to draw too many parallels between drivers. You can go a long time and finally win it, or you could go a long time and never win it. That’s just the way that place goes.
“The desire has never changed. It’s always been there and it’s always been strong. It has always been a very high point with me.”
Team Penske drivers have won the past two Indy 500s with Will Power winning in 2018 and Simon Pagenaud claiming the checkered flag last year. Newgarden finished eighth and fourth in those two races. His best finish at Indy was third with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2016.
Newgarden has helped his teammates celebrate their big wins, but deep down he looks forward to the day when they are celebrating his Indy 500 victory.
“When Will and Simon have been able to win the event, part of you is extremely happy for them and the team, but part of you wishes it was you,” Newgarden admitted. “How could you not think that to some degree?
“Being an ultra-competitive person, we all think that way. Every driver that doesn’t win the event that specific year wishes it were them. We should all think that way and have a desire to win the event and be sad when we don’t,” Newgarden said. “But it hasn’t changed my ultimate desire to win the Indianapolis 500. It remains my ultimate desire to win the race.”
For now, Indy will wait until August, and when the season begins Newgarden will focus on winning a third NTT IndyCar Series championship.
It’s been nearly a decade since Dario Franchitti won back-to-back NTT IndyCar Series championships. That came during his glorious run of four championships and three Indy 500 victories during a five-year span.
Newgarden won the title in 2017 and again last year.
“I’ll take them any way I can get them,” he said. “If we have to do one year on, one year off, I don’t mind that. If that’s the deal we have to make, great.
“Back-to-back would be great. After 2017, I thought 2018 was very good. We didn’t drop off; we just could not convert on race weekends. That was our big problem; converting results. Last year, that was our bread-and-butter. We would convert,” Newgarden added. “We would figure out a way to turn a fifth place into a third place, or turn a second into a win, or turn a win into a win. Sometimes we struggled to do that in 2018.
“If we can do relatively the same stuff as last season, I don’t see any reason why we can’t go back to back.”
Newgarden claims his appreciation for the second championship was greater than the first.
“I think you have more perspective every year, whether that is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or in the IndyCar Series itself, you know what it takes,” Newgarden acknowledged.
The on-track battles take a toll on the competitors from a mental standpoint. Newgarden admits he has to psyche himself up for another season, because he realizes the relentless “all-in” approach that it takes to be successful in today’s IndyCar Series.
“Every year, when we start back up after a little break in the offseason, I always have a moment where I ask myself, ‘Are you ready to go? Can you put together a full year again?’” Newgarden admitted. “It honestly takes a tremendous amount of effort and a tremendous amount of energy just to put a full season together, let alone the compact schedule.”
The blueprint for a championship is easy to formulate, but very difficult to accomplish.
It comes from right out of the Team Penske playbook.
“It’s the details,” Newgarden noted. “Some of these races, people are like, ‘How did you win that race and where did you come from?’ If you look at the data, it’s really clear how we won our races.
“We just execute so supremely well. That gets me excited,” Newgarden added. “I know I have a group around me that is good on strategy, good on pit stops and they know the right time to make the right move. When you give me the right car and I know what is going on, I’m going to make the right things happen at the right time. Things like, in and out laps, when to use push to pass, how to use the tires.
“It comes down to some inherent race speed like we had last year. Tim Cindric (Team Penske president who calls Newgarden’s strategy) was right on it every time.
“We never missed a beat. The pit crew was on it. We got four or five of the fastest pit stops in the race. It’s the details. They all have to line up,” Newgarden explained. “You can’t make one mistake. If you make one little mistake, it puts you back at the wrong point and you lose the race.
“Everything has to fall in line, and we have the details all sorted out.”
Those are the same keys Team Penske has used to accumulate a record 18 Indy 500 victories. Newgarden hopes that will be his recipe for success on Aug. 23.
“Hopefully, that place chooses me one day,” Newgarden said.