Verizon IndyCar Series drivers were asked to rank the five most interesting storylines leading into the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that opens the 2017 season on March 12. Today, we feature the fourth of those five.
No. 2: Josef Newgarden joins Team Penske
Josef Newgarden has three Verizon IndyCar Series wins to his name and almost universally has been tabbed as the sport’s “next big thing.” Now he drives for Roger Penske, the “big thing” among INDYCAR team owners.
Obviously, Newgarden joins the most successful and experienced group in INDYCAR, with Helio Castroneves possessing three Indianapolis 500 victories among his 29 career wins and Will Power and Simon Pagenaud each having a series title on the resume. But the team might also be considered better prepared for welcoming Newgarden into the mix.
Two years ago, Pagenaud was the new hotshot on the Penske scene. While he didn’t have a terrible season, he didn’t achieve the expected results (no wins, a single pole, four top-five finishes in 16 starts and finishing 11th in the standings). Team Penske believes it has learned from that experience.
For starters, Newgarden will have team president Tim Cindric on his radio, which is significant given Cindric’s experience with Castroneves and Power. With all due respect to Roger Penske, Cindric is at least Penske’s equal when it comes to calling races, and that should benefit Newgarden.
If Newgarden, Cindric and their gang of crew members gel, it should be a fascinating season to watch. The No. 2 car still has Chevrolet power, still has the other drivers to draw feedback from and the team still has Juan Pablo Montoya in the fold for the Indianapolis 500.
Newgarden nearly won the Indy 500 last year, finishing third. Had Bryan Herta not gambled on Alexander Rossi’s fuel strategy, a shootout for a spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy would have materialized between Carlos Munoz and Newgarden.
Newgarden scored his third career race win last year at Iowa Speedway, leading 282 of the 300 laps in the season’s most dominating flag-to-flag performance. He also had a third-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park, where he has excelled throughout his Verizon IndyCar Series days.
Of course, the key to how Newgarden’s season goes could lie within. Pagenaud had an exceptionally strong championship season in 2016 (five wins, seven poles) and Power (four wins, two poles) is an every-week threat to be in the mix. Don’t forget about Castroneves, either. The group could finish 1-2-3-4 in the standings as they did last year when Newgarden was with Ed Carpenter Racing.
But Newgarden easily could be wearing the season crown come September, which is why his peers believe he could become the story of the year. For now, he is No. 2.
Tomorrow: No. 1 on the list.
Past top storylines: No. 5, Sebastien Bourdais; No. 4, Takuma Sato; No. 3, AJ Foyt Racing.