Newgarden’s aim is to have championship wrapped up by time we get to Laguna Seca this year, why he feels this way and how he can do it here

The NTT INDYCAR Series championship has come down to the final race to crown it’s champion for 17 straight years now. That’s why it sounded over ambitious for Josef Newgarden to claim that he’d like to head to Laguna Seca this year with the championship already locked up.

“How are we going to build a bigger gap where that’s not even possible? I don’t even want to be messing with it at the end of the year,” said the two-time series champion at Media Day on Wednesday. “In an ideal world, if we get to the end of a season where we don’t have to mess with the gap, if we can just get that out of the way, that would be ideal. That’s where my mindset is at, how do we get to that place where it’s not even on the table, it’s just done.

“I think I’m not arrogant enough to believe that that’s easy. It seems near impossible these days to do that. I think that’s valid. It’s very difficult to do that. I understand that. But I still want to find a way where we can get to a place where we don’t have to mess with it.”

When pressed about if he truly meant that, he doubled down on his remark.

“It’s not easy. It’s possible. I do not think that will be easy whatsoever, but we need to figure out how to do that,” he said.

The reason for that feeling is that Newgarden is sick and tired of coming away runner-up in points.

“Yeah, I mean, it gnaws at me for sure,” he said. “It’s annoying, there’s no doubt. How could you not be frustrated by it, right? I think it’s normal, very frustrating. I try and take the frustration and just put it into motivation.”

That frustration has been weighing on Newgarden since he left Monterey last September. He was dejected when he left Laguna Seca last September, the site of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season finale. That’s also the same spot to crown this year’s champion. The mantra surrounding the two-time series champion was telling. He was pissed.

He felt like he threw away another shot at a championship a day prior in making a rare mistake in qualifying. That was the dagger he felt in his championship aspirations. That overshadowed his stellar driver from 25th to 2nd on a track to where passing was difficult.

Still, 2022’s ending wasn’t just about that Saturday qualifying blip. It wasn’t all about losing the championship on Sunday. It was about losing the last three championships and how each instance occurred. The newly turned 32-year-old is as competitive as they come and he’s pissed to be so close yet so far away from a dynasty here.

Last season was his 7th straight top 5 finish in the NTT INDYCAR Series final standings. 5 of which have now been in the top 2 including an astounding four straight years. However, only twice has he won a championship in this span and over the last four years, three straight have seen him come home bridesmaid at seasons end.

Josef Newgarden Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Last year was even more difficult to grasp.

While he had the most wins during the course of the 17-race season, he struggled to put a complete season together. Newgarden had as many wins (5) as he had finishes of 13th or worse (5). That’s where this title was lost.

“You know, for sure we just needed to have a more consistent season,” Newgarden noted that day. “There’s no doubt. I think that the peak performance was there all year. We just didn’t have the consistency. That ultimately is what put us in an unfavorable position when we came here.

“If we can clean that up, I have no doubt we can challenge for the championship again next year.”

Newgarden’s attitude hasn’t changed one iota since those comments.

“Honestly, I don’t feel that different leaving Laguna, where I was kind of at mentally there, my statements, what I was projecting. I feel very similar to that place,” Newgarden quipped at the 2023 Media Day on Wednesday.

A main reason as to why is the fact that Newgarden notes that not a lot has transpired between now and then. He’s in the same spot now as he was on that day and ready to get back in the car to show that they can improve and put a full season together.

“I don’t think we’re going to change much,” he continued. “I don’t know that we need to change anything as far as our approach or process. I think everything that we’re doing is what we need to be doing.”

Will Power had 1 win compared to Newgarden’s 5 last year. He took home the title. It was the complete opposite in 2021. No one had as many top 10 finishes (13) as Newgarden then.

So where’s the sweet spot?

Newgarden says there truly isn’t one as when you’re in a series as competitive as INDYCAR, sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce in your direction and when it does, you have to capitalize.

“INDYCAR just has that intangible side to it where you just can’t predict everything,” he said. “You do need a little bit of I don’t want say lock but you need the tides to favor you at times. It’s preparation, hard work, maximizing each day, then timing needs to be on your side. Sort of the tides need to flow for you.

“I think most of everything went well for us last year. There were just too many events, just a couple too many races that didn’t go our way that we needed.

“I think you can have a bad race. You just can’t have three or four of ’em. Three or four is a lot. It depends on the year.”

So how do you improve between seasons then?

“I think the complexion of each year is different,” he says. It’s always been hard for me to assess things by comparing year to year. They’re all different. There’s some years you probably could afford three or four bad races. Last year was not a year that you could afford that.

“It depends on who’s having a great year. Sometimes people just have a good run and nothing seems to go wrong for them. That’s just the nature of the beast.

“I’ve done this enough I think to have a fair assessment of it. It’s my opinion there’s that intangible you can’t control. When I analyze other drivers and the seasons they’ve had, even my own, sometime timing just seems to work out really well for certain teams and individuals. That’s a thing you can’t control, unfortunately, right?

“With that kind of comes peace of mind. I focus on controlling how can we build the best cars possible to give ourselves the best speed, how can we make the best decisions we can strategy-wise, position-wise. You really just have to hope that the timing blesses you throughout the year as well.

“I am so positive, when we get a year where we get good timing paired with great speed and decisions, it will be a great year. It will be really great. Much better than what we had last year.”

Power agreed with that saying this a day prior.

“Every season flows differently, but just in general in my life, I just don’t put too much emotion into situations,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained from it.

“There’s just a lot of things that clicked last year within my team, the crew. Obviously Dave Faustino and the new crew chief are all pretty good group, pretty good, positive group, enjoying the job.”

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, good luck or bad luck, it’s the lack of consistent podiums is what proved to be the difference between Newgarden and at least another title or two since 2017. For 2021, he had 6 podiums. Alex Palou had 8. Palou also had 10 top 5’s in comparison to Newgarden’s 8.

Last year, his only podiums are his race wins and the one he had in the season finale. He did have 8 top 5’s and 12 top 10’s. It’s those 5 finishes of 13th or worse that are costing him

Prior to that, in the first 10 races of the season in 2021, he had nine top 10 qualifying efforts including three straight poles heading into the break. In the five races leading into the season finale weekend, he was 12th or worse in qualifying in four of them.

That coupled with some key moments earlier in the season put him 38 points behind in the end. If you take Barber and Road America back, Newgarden may be the one hoisting the trophy that season instead.

Newgarden, crashed on the opening lap at Barber. Palou won that day. He was on the wrong end of a caution in Belle Isle which cost his strategy after leading the first 67 laps of the 70 lap race. He had a mechanical failure while leading on the late restart with 2 to go in Road America. He had led 32 laps of 55 that day. Palou won that race too.

Take Barber, Road America and Belle Isle out, Newgarden likely wins last years title.

He still had a pair of wins and three runner-ups in races that did go his way.

This sounds very similar to the year prior as well.

See, in 2020, Scott Dixon won each of the first three races run and had a top two result in four of the first five overall. In fact, once Dixon won the Aug. 29 race at the World Wide Technology Raceway a year ago and it was his sixth top two in the opening eight races of the season. With a race on that same track a day later and six overall races left, he appeared to be untouchable.

Newgarden, found himself over 117 points down, going into Race 2 of the St. Louis race weekend. He stormed all the way back and nearly won the title.

How? How does one make up 117 points in six races?

Speed and talent is how and it left Newgarden wondering if he had started better, what if?

In a six race span to end that season, Newgarden had five top four finishes — four of those in the top two. Dixon, only had one podium and two top fives.

But, it was that string of races to start the year to what was the deciding factor in this. If cautions fell differently, Newgarden may have been the champion for 2020 after all.

It happened in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on July 4 a year ago. He had a podium caliber kind of car but the caution for Oliver Askew’s crash in the middle of a pit sequence wasn’t needed. He’d finish seventh as a result. It happened again in Race 1 at Iowa. He finished fifth. It happened in Race 1 at World Wide Technology Raceway too. He’d finish 12th.

In those three races, Scott Dixon came home first, second, first respectively. The points difference between just those two in those three combined races?


Newgarden entered the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader in 2020 with a 72 point gap.

That alone proves that the cautions have hurt him. Say Dixon and he both finish in the top five of those races, the gap would have been far less than 72. It’s more like 15 or less.

When cautions stayed out of Newgarden’s way, he was the better driver with the better car.

Last year came down to more pace on the races that he didn’t win but here he is again. This time, he says that his goal is to head to Laguna ensuring that the title is his to lose and have an easier weekend. In fact, he’d like to have the championship clinched by time we get there.

That’s why he says it comes down to not throwing points away early and ensuring the title is in your hands come September.

The easiest place to do so at is Indianapolis. That race pays double points. While it’s not the end-and-be-all (The last Indy 500 winner and champion in the same season came in 2012), it doesn’t hurt.

“Indianapolis is obviously the most glaring example of where we can continue to push forward,” Newgarden notes. “There’s other areas where we’ve excelled better, but Indianapolis is still a weak point for us.”

He says that Indy is the place that has been circled by Team Penske to get better at. They failed to lead a single lap in last year’s race and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).

“No doubt. It’s number one. It’s the number one objective. There’s just no excuse for it,” Newgarden noted. “We have to be better at Indianapolis, full stop.

“It’s not from a lack of trying. I can tell you it wasn’t from a lack of trying last off-season. We thought we were going to be exactly where we wanted to be. I think we made tremendous progress, but we weren’t fully there. We’re doubling down again. No excuses. We’ve got to make it better.”

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