DETROIT – The month of May couldn’t have come faster for Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, the current points leader in 2019 NTT IndyCar Series competition.
It’s a time to rectify a few problems from a year ago for the 2017 series champion at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a chance to roll from there to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear looking for more points.
In 2018, Newgarden struggled by his standards at IMS, finishing 11th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course and eighth in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on the 2.5-mile oval. It was then that Newgarden fell from the championship lead and, following finishes of ninth and 15th at the Detroit doubleheader a week later, he never recovered and wound up fifth in the standings.
Newgarden, who pilots the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, is well aware that double points are on offer in the Indianapolis 500 and essentially at Detroit with its two races. The 28-year-old wants to cash in this time in his bid for a second championship.
“It’s important to be better than we were last year,” Newgarden said Tuesday at the Detroit Sports Media luncheon, where he met with media and Lear Corp. workers and played former Detroit Red Wings NHL Hall of Famer Larry Murphy in a game of fowling – a hybrid of football and bowling – while in the Motor City to promote the Belle Isle race weekend.
“As a team, I thought we underperformed by our standards (last year), particularly in our own backyard (in Detroit). Belle Isle is a very important event for many reasons for Team Penske and Chevrolet. I think we have a good car for Detroit, actually.
“I think our street-course car is going to be significantly better than last year, and I’m excited about that,” added Newgarden, who won the 2019 opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. “Chevrolet is going to have a good package for us.”
Newgarden hasn’t exactly been pedestrian this season as the series moves next to IMS for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11 (3 p.m. ET, NBC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). He hasn’t finished lower than fourth place through the first four races.
“It’s been a very good start, but we are a little under a quarter way through the season, so it’s still super early,” said Newgarden, who won three times in 2018. “We are doing well now, but you’ve got to be able to put 17 races together, not four. But, at the moment, all signs point to good.”
Newgarden, in his eighth NTT IndyCar Series season, admits he lives for May and June as a race car driver. This year takes on more significance for the team since it is the 50th anniversary of the first time Roger Penske entered a car at the Indianapolis 500 with Mark Donohue in 1969.
“Every year you are excited about this time of the season,” he said. “It’s another opportunity to win the Indy 500 and that’s what we are trying to do. It is Team Penske’s 50th year at Indianapolis and there is a book coming out about it. It’s going to be fun, yes. It’s such a big year. Hopefully, we have enough to win the 500 this year.”
Then to Belle Isle on the heels of the centerpiece race for the series?
“It’s a taxing time,” said Newgarden, who has 11 career wins. “It’s a lot of racing. You tell everyone you’ll catch up with them at the end of June. … It’s pretty much a month and a half of craziness and it doesn’t stop.
“Detroit, it’s a grind but in a good way,” said Newgarden. “It’s fun but tough – two races in two days. Like Indy, it’s double points, though. So, you look at back-to-back … pretty much 200 points on the table, which is huge.
“You have to have a good month of May, you have to have a good Detroit, which will set you up for a good championship run.”
Tickets for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and 103rd Indianapolis 500 are available at IMS.com. Tickets for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix are available at DetroitGP.com.