One of the highlights of Josef Newgarden’s up-and-down title defense season has been his dominant weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Luckily for the Team Penske driver, the start of his weekend at Road America has mirrored his Alabama success.
Newgarden’s first two non-oval outings this year were low key. In St. Petersburg, he finished the first day of the three-day weekend with the fifth-best time but qualified 13th. In the race, he rebounded to finish seventh.
Long Beach played out similarly and, despite a better qualifying effort that resulted in a start from the outside of the third row, Newgarden finished in the same position at the California street circuit as he did on the Floridian one.
In Birmingham, however, Newgarden’s championship form reemerged. After topping the combined timesheet on day one, Newgarden went on to secure his first pole position of the year. The race — split over two days due to a red flag and subsequent rain delay — saw his No. 1 Chevrolet lead 73 of 82 laps en route to victory lane. He also turned the third-fastest lap of the race, proving that his win was based on more than just starting position.
The Tennessee native’s road and street results took a relative nosedive after leaving the home-race atmosphere in Birmingham. In Indianapolis, he ranked 11th after the first day of practice, qualified sixth and finished 11th. In Detroit, his results were also far from stellar.
Although Newgarden ended day one in the Motor City with the fourth-fastest lap, qualifying results of 14th for Race 1 and 19th for Race 2 led to finishes of ninth and 15th, respectively.
Now in Elkhart Lake, Newgarden has traded the flatness of Indiana and Michigan for the undulating hills of Wisconsin — the first time he’s encountered significant elevation change since Barber.
Newgarden has already replicated the day-one performance from Barber, suggesting that a pole position and a race win are fully within his grasp. Yet, after Practice 1, the driver cautioned not to read too much into the times so early in the race weekend.
“(It) seems like as the track rubbers up, you start to get really a better picture of where everyone is at,” said Newgarden. “That’s the only thing I would caution from session one: maybe it’s not showing the full picture.”
One more 45-minute practice and three rounds of knockout qualifying on Saturday will bring Newgarden’s weekend more into focus ahead of Sunday’s 55-lap race on the 4.014-mile circuit.