FORT WORTH, Texas – For Josef Newgarden, returning to Texas Motor Speedway for last week’s Verizon IndyCar Series open test was no big deal.
It was last June, during the annual race on the 1.5-mile oval, when Newgarden was involved in a frightening crash that left him with a fractured right clavicle and a slight fracture in his right hand. The force of the impact was so strong that the car’s roll hoop, which sits above the driver’s head, was damaged and part of the SAFER Barrier on the track’s outside wall near the start/finish line required repair.
Remarkably, Newgarden didn’t miss a start racing then for Ed Carpenter Racing and did one better by dominating the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway less than a month later, leading an Indy car-record 282 laps on his way to victory.
Fast forward through an offseason that saw the talented 26-year-old join Team Penske. Three days after finishing on the podium April 12 in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden was turning laps on the Texas oval for the first time since the crash.
By INDYCAR rule, Newgarden was not permitted to compete in last year’s August race completion, after the event was suspended for two months by incessant rain in June. Wednesday’s test gave the Tennessean his first crack back on the track, even though it was a new layout. TMS underwent a repave and reconfiguration in the offseason that saw Turns 1 and 2 widened from 80 feet and the banking dropped from 24 degrees to 20.
Newgarden wasn’t fazed about returning to the scene of the crash.
“(It’s) just great to be back,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought about much, to be honest with you.
“Missed the race (last year), which sucked, but it’s great to be back. I love this track and I am excited to get to run here this year.”
After putting in 148 total laps between the two test sessions, Newgarden is expecting the changes to the track to bring on a different outlook for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 on June 10 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I think we’re still figuring it out,” said Newgarden. “It’s early. It’s definitely different than last year. You know, we’re not going to get the (tire) degradation that we had in years past, so it’s going to change the dynamic. I think that is some of what INDYCAR is trying to figure out is how do we need to adjust for that.
“The track is different, so from a rules standpoint we are going to need to adjust. These cars are a lot different than NASCAR. They react differently, they’re a lot lighter, the tires are different and the way we drive the cars with the downforce is different.
“So we are just trying to figure out what’s going to be the best race. How do we put on a good race, but also a safe and proper race that the drivers can drive themselves so they don’t feel stuck to the racetrack where they can’t make a difference from a driving standpoint?”
Next up on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET April 23 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.