With just one round to go in the 17-race 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Josef Newgarden is not letting a poor result at Watkins Glen International put a damper on his championship hopes.
“I don’t think it will change our mindset or the way that we attack the season finale, but it does create less opportunity for error on the event,” he said.
The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet hit the pit wall on Lap 46 while running in the top five. Several pit stops for repairs relegated him to an 18th-place finish.
The result reduced his points lead to just three over Scott Dixon heading into the season finale at Sonoma Raceway. While his cushion is minimal, Newgarden is focused on the task at hand.
“I think the good thing about it is we can control our own destiny, and if we win the race, then that basically secures the championship,” he said. “So it’s in our hands to make it happen, rather than us having to go there and rely on other people finishing in a certain position.”
Strong Penske Debut for Newgarden
Newgarden has had a dream first season with Penske, having scored four victories at Barber, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Gateway as well as eight podium finishes.
The 26-year-old driver from Hendersonville, Tennessee noted that the Penske culture has made him become a much more versatile driver.
“I think for me personally, just being more adaptive is what’s been my biggest growth point this year — being able to adapt to a different environment that works differently than I’ve experienced in the past, being able to adapt to different setups that aren’t necessarily in my comfort window.
“Not something that I’ve had my personal touch on right from the beginning, which is what I’ve been used to in the past with the teams I’ve worked with in the past.”
Also in the title fight are Penske teammates Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. Battling with his teammates puts a unique kind of pressure on any driver, but Newgarden finds it to be an advantage because he can race them with respect.
“I feel like with the way Team Penske operates, it sort of doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I think if anything, you’ve got to feel that it’s maybe more of an advantage because you’re going to race your teammates hard.
“I know they’re going to race me very hard, but they’re going to try to be as fair as possible with it, so I expect very hard racing from my teammates. They’re going to try and beat me just as bad as I’m going to try and beat them, but there’s a little bit in the back of the head there that they want to be as fair as possible.
“It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be hard with the way they race, but you’ve got to think there’s got to be a little bit of fairness with it, too.”
Beating Dixon Makes Championship Sweeter
In addition to racing with his teammates, Newgarden has a fierce competitor right on his heels in four-time series champion Scott Dixon. Given Dixon’s résumé, Newgarden would feel bullish if he was to come out on top.
Given Dixon’s résumé, Newgarden would feel bullish if he was to come out on top.
“I think it would be hugely successful if we’re able to beat Scott,” he said. “You’ve got to feel good about that with how high of a caliber he is. He’s just one of the best. You know, on that same token, I feel like we have some of the best with Simon and Will and Helio, too.”
“It’ll be very gratifying hopefully beating Scott, and then I think the same thing with the other guys in the fight.”
With Penske having four bullets in the gun, Newgarden remarked that any driver winning the championship would showcase the effort put forth by the entire organization.
“It seems like it’s a line that we put out all the time, but it’s really true, when one car wins, we kind of all win, and yeah, some on the (No.) 2 car, and we have specific guys that work on that and fill pit stops for a race weekend, but all four cars, they all work together.
“All the other guys from the other cars, they work on my car and vice versa, so everyone in the shop feels like we won when one of the cars does win, whether it’s your car specifically or not.”
With a slim margin keeping him on top of the championship standings, Newgarden will have the chance to secure his first series championship at the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on the weekend of Sept. 15–17.