The day before he won at Iowa Speedway, Josef Newgarden wasn’t himself. Usually engaging and loquacious, he was peeved and short.
In a press conference after he qualified third for the Iowa 300, Newgarden was asked about the track’s history of pole winners not winning the race. His six-word response set the unofficial record for shortest answer by Newgarden in press conference history:
“I'm not big into stats, so …
By early Sunday morning, his attitude had flipped. A dominating victory -- Newgarden’s fourth of the season -- padded his lead in the NTT IndyCar Series standings and put him firmly in charge of the championship with five races remaining in the 2019 season.
And about his brevity after Friday’s qualifying? Simple. He’s competitive. Winning makes Newgarden happy. Qualifying third behind teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power doesn’t make him happy. Winning, on the other hand, does.
“I don't normally like to be short and externally frustrated, but I was just frustrated,” he explained in the wee hours of the Sunday morning post-race press conference. “You're always feeling competitive, but a lot of times you can hold it back if you're pissed off about something. Sometimes you just want to go back out and redo it. That's kind of where I was yesterday.”
Winning -- and winning in dominating style -- has a way of changing one’s mood. Newgarden led 245 of the 300 laps around the 7/8ths-mile oval and was never seriously threatened. Afterward, he was back to his talkative self, in part because he had accomplished something he wanted to prove after not winning the pole position.
“I felt ready to rock” Newgarden said. “I just wanted to make amends for not getting the pole. The pole is not the most important thing. I kind of look at it like it's two races in the weekend. Qualifying is its own race and the race itself is its own race. The race specifically is more important. You want to win both. That's where that competitive spirit was. I wanted to get it right tonight. That's when I really wanted to make it work.”
He celebrated his second win in the last four at Iowa with an epic burnout and a typical Newgarden victory lane celebration, posing for photos with fans who stuck out a lengthy rain delay for the late conclusion.
"We certainly don't like making the fans wait,” he said. “The ones that went home, completely understandable. (It) got pretty late there. The ones that stuck with us, it was real nice they got to see a full show. I think we're all pretty pumped about that.”
As the series heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, Newgarden holds a 29-point lead over Alexander Rossi. Pagenaud is third in the standings, 58 points back, with Dixon fourth at 98 points back. At the moment, Newgarden says he isn’t counting.
“The way I always drive is, it's going to add up how it's going to add up at the end of the year,” he said. “You’ve got to maximize your weekends that you can. I don't think there's urgency now. Look, there's a lot of people still in it. We’ve just got to make the most of each weekend. If you’ve got a winning car, we try to win. If we have a fourth-place car, try to finish fourth. That's what we've been doing.”
So far, it’s been working. Even if getting there sometimes brings out the competitive -- and rarely quiet -- side of Josef Newgarden.
“After an hour of being pissed about it, we just went to practice and we moved on,” he said. “That's all there is to it. I mean, you're going to get that. Look, we all want to kick each other's butts. That's what it's all about. … It's a competitive sport. We all want to be the best. That's what makes it fun. So, yeah, I was fine after we got to (the final) practice session.”
And even better in the race.
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio begins with a pair of Friday practices, practice and qualifying on Saturday and Sunday's race. NBC has the broadcast Sunday at 3:30 p.m.