ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Josef Newgarden doesn’t typically make many mistakes. In fact, you’d have to strain your brain to remember the last time that he did. The Team Penske driver doesn’t win two championships in four years if he did. When it comes to race craft, there’s not many better than the Tennessee native.
Newgarden though, made his first mistake in what seems like an eternity last Sunday at the Barber Motorsports Park. He got slightly off course not long after the drop of the green flag and when he came back on, his No. 2 Chevrolet was unnormally out of control.
Newgarden, finally lost control of his Dallara and sparked a big crash on Lap 1. His day was over as quickly as it started. It was the first time that Newgarden had even finished outside of the top 20 in nearly five years. In fact, his 23rd place finish marked his worst finish since joining Penske in 2017.
By virtue of that, Newgarden said that it took a little longer than normal to get past it.
“I think the sting is just what it is,” Newgarden said on why it took 48 hours instead of 24 to get past Barber. “Going quick again this weekend right away, it doesn’t really do much for that. At the end of the day, the race is what is going to matter this weekend. That’s what we missed out on last week, which was the hardest pill to swallow.
“I mean it was a gorgeous day. I remember the warmup. What a gorgeous day to go racing. I was so excited. That’s my favorite part of the weekend, is the race itself. It is not kind of building to it, it’s not the qualifying, it’s the race where it really matters.
“It was just a big gut punch, to be honest with you, just to be out so quick. Wasn’t something I was really expecting.
“Didn’t think it was something I was asking for. Sometimes I get myself into trouble because I’m aggressive. Normally when I do, I know I was asking for it. I say, Why did I do that? That was silly.
“This one I couldn’t categorize as that. It was one of those things, a bad combination of a couple different factors. Next thing you know you’re in trouble. When it affects you, it’s not fun. When it affects you plus some others, it’s really not fun.
“Yeah, it was just a gut punch. Took a little bit longer. Definitely 48 hours. But I’m ready to get going. We haven’t started our season yet. I want to get a race underneath us. I’m ready for Sunday.”
Newgarden said that while it does put him in a hole in the championship, he’s not even looking at the points standings yet. Yes, the series is so talented from top to bottom that you can’t afford many bad weeks, if any. As an example, his worst finish last year was 14th and he still missed out on the championship.
“I’m not even thinking about it, to be honest, because it’s so early,” he said. “As far as points go, it’s not ideal. Obviously in a perfect world we would have started off with much better points and ideally a win.”
Newgarden said that as far as the championship goes, he doesn’t know how they can look at that at the moment.
“We want to have a solid weekend,” he continued. “It was a shame we just didn’t even really get to be in the race. It’s more of a shame when you affect other people’s days, like Colton, I felt bad about that, amongst others.
“Yeah, excited to get going. I think for us as a team and a unit, we want to get back on track and do our thing, get a race underneath us.
“Yeah, championship-wise I think it’s way too early to start thinking about that.”
These next three races are great ones for him to get back in it though. He’s won the last two races on the streets of St. Pete, the site of Sunday’s race. He was also fastest in practice on Friday afternoon too.
Then, it’s to Texas as a doubleheader. Newgarden finished third there last year and first in 2019. After that it’s to the IMS road course. He was seventh, first and fourth respectively there in 2020. Then, you get double points for the Indy 500. Newgarden, has four top nine results in his last five Indy 500 tries including a fourth place run last year.
If he can match those performances, then he’ll get back into things by June. That’s why he’s not concerned yet. He just knows that he can’t made any rare mistakes from this moment forward.