Josef Newgarden

The first time Josef Newgarden clinched an NTT IndyCar Series season championship, he was relatively calm -- stoic, even. His voice cracked with emotion briefly over the radio during the cool-down lap at Sonoma Raceway in September 2017, but he quickly gathered himself and worked through the ensuing television interviews and press conference with steady composure.

The only time his emotions saw light at Sonoma was when he talked about his parents, Joey and Tina.

“It's taken a lot of people to get to this point, clearly and obviously,” the Team Penske driver said then. “This started a long time ago with just my parents, and they're the biggest reason that I've been able to do this. They've put everything on the line for me to make sure I had an opportunity to do this.”

Josef Newgarden's 2019 championship ring

Newgarden wasn’t nearly as steady after the second championship. As he circled WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September 2019, Newgarden wept openly. When he got out of the car and began an interview with NBC’s Marty Snider, Newgarden fought tears. And, just as two years earlier at Sonoma, it was in response to his family.

“It’s been a lot this year, but I’ve had the best people around me,” Newgarden said after hugging his mom. “I couldn’t ask for more than what I have. It’s amazing to be able to win races and drive for this team. It’s been my dream since I was a kid. It’s just really grateful for everyone who’s done everything for me.”

Maybe it was the pressure of the close, year-long championship battle with Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon and Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud that brought the sentiments to the surface. Maybe it was the realization that championships are difficult to win. Or maybe it was that Newgarden, older by just two years but wiser by a lifetime, understood the gravity of the accomplishment.

When he sat down for press conference at Laguna Seca, Newgarden’s first words were, “I’m worn out. Emotionally worn out.”

“I don't know why, but it feels more special,” he continued. “It really hit me. It just really, really hit me on the in-lap. I don't know why. I was just so emotional. I didn't quite get that way in the first one. I don't know if you don't have quite the respect for it or what it is. … You just have more perspective on how difficult it is.”

This time, like he did in 2017, Newgarden made the difficult look easy. He won four races -- St. Petersburg, Detroit, Texas and Iowa -- and pieced together as close to perfect a 17-race season as possible, finishing outside the top 10 only three times to outscore Pagenaud by 25, Rossi by 33 and Dixon by 63. He led the point standings virtually from start to finish, yielding only briefly to Pagenaud, who had a record-breaking month at Indianapolis in May.

“This one just felt like it was more ours to lose,” Newgarden said. “It was more ours to give away. I thought it was our year to win, and if we didn't, it was just going to hurt a lot.”