Sometime in late July, Josef Newgarden decided to get a bit more conservative than he usually is. There’s a reason for that.
On the final lap of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 28, Newgarden made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay while running fourth. Newgarden’s car spun out, turning what could have been a solid day for points into a 14th-place finish and a painful misstep in his bid to win the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship.
“I've been known to have my moments in the car; Mid-Ohio was definitely one of them,” Newgarden said. “The problem is, I just can't help myself sometimes. My nature is to always go for a higher position. I've had to work on pulling myself back.”
He did, and he has. In the three races since the spin, Newgarden has finished fifth, seventh and fifth, helping him maintain the lead he’s held since winning the first of two races in Detroit on June 1. He carries that lead into the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey next week at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Viewing the season-long picture instead of one position in a race is something Newgarden (shown above during February testing at Laguna Seca) has been teaching himself since the 2017 season, when he captured his first championship.
“I think I've learned how to do that in a lot of ways over the last couple years,” he said. “I've been able to do that. I feel confident that my approach can be good.”
But that final lap at Mid-Ohio is one he’d like to have back. As Newgarden pursued Hunter-Reay into Turn 2 on the final lap, he tried a left-right crossover move that didn’t work. Instead, he spun into the gravel. Without it, his 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi and a 42-point lead over Simon Pagenaud heading into the season finale could have been closer to 60 points.
“You can see how quickly decision-making can turn from a potential positive to a really big negative,” Newgarden said. “That's what it's like in the top level of racing. It can go from good to bad really quick. I think that's what makes it entertaining and exciting. That's what makes it thrilling, when you get it right.”
Now, with only four veterans in the field having previous racing experience at Laguna Seca, Newgarden is preparing for the unfamiliarity with any information he can find.
“It's everything you can get your hands on,” he said. “I think people watch a lot of video. For me, you search on YouTube, try to watch old races. You try to find drivers that have been there or currently racing there in other series.”
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 22. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).