Josef Newgarden has had an up-and-down career on the streets of Long Beach, but a string of success and improved confidence in his race cars have the two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion optimistic he can finally seal the deal in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach this Sunday.
Newgarden has made nine starts on the street course south of Los Angeles, but it remains one of five racetracks on the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar where he is winless. It’s been an uphill climb to his 9.9 average finish at the track dating back to his rough debut in 2012.
“I would like to get a win there,” Newgarden said. “We've been close before, so we've just got to figure out how to close the deal. That's as simple as that. If we have a weak place, we're going to make it a strong place, and I feel like Long Beach has been getting there slowly for us. It's definitely become a strength, and we just need a little bit more to close the deal and feel like we can do that this weekend.”
In Newgarden’s third career NTT INDYCAR SERIES start, which came at Long Beach 10 years ago, he started second alongside Dario Franchitti. As the two went side by side into Turn 1, Newgarden had the advantage over Franchitti before making hard contact with the outside wall. He finished 26th without completing a lap.
Since then, he has slowly improved his performance in one of the most prestigious open-wheel races. Most notably, Newgarden has finished second at Long Beach in the last two races, in 2019 and 2021. There was no race at Long Beach in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In last year’s race, the season finale, Newgarden had his best Long Beach performance to date. He earned his first Long Beach NTT P1 Award, led a career-high 18 laps and finished second behind Colton Herta en route to second place in the championship behind Alex Palou.
“Long Beach and I have had an interesting history at this track,” he said. “I remember my third race in INDYCAR. I had a pretty tough day there in Turn 1 up against Dario, and I ended up in the fence. It was a really, really tough third race at the track. I've had some really good days, and last year was almost a really, really good day. The difference-maker for us is going to come down to drivability.”
Newgarden he’s struggled most with confidence in the race car at Long Beach. He’s never quite felt like he has had the car underneath him to hit the big braking zones like Turn 1 and Turn 9 or to push hard in qualifying to secure a good starting spot.
But Newgarden thinks his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske crew and Chevrolet have put plenty of effort into improving their drivability on street courses. Of the five street courses in 2021, Honda won four of them, and Chevrolet driver Pato O’Ward won at Belle Isle-2.
But Chevrolet came out of the gate strong on the Streets of St. Petersburg with Scott McLaughlin scoring his first career win. Newgarden didn’t have a stellar race, placing 16th after getting caught on a pit strategy that prevented a better finish.
Based off what he saw and felt in St. Petersburg, Newgarden thinks the offseason work has paid off and he could finally have a car capable of winning at Long Beach and dethroning street course masters like Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing, who combined to win the other four street course races last year with Herta and Marcus Ericsson.
“On a street course, we've made big inroads on the Team Chevy side for just improving drivability, improving our fuel mileage, and certainly keeping our robust power,” Newgarden said. “Those three elements are really what we work on at Team Chevy, and the durability side is critical on the street courses. I think the improvements we've made this offseason, that was part of why we were better at St. Pete, and I think that will carry over to Long Beach.
“Then on the chassis side we have some changes, too. We've made the car more comfortable. I think we've made the car more secure where we can push and feel confident in what it's doing. All of those things combined are what we're going to need to topple Honda, Andretti and Ganassi.”
Not only is Newgarden riding a wave of confidence from successful past outings at Long Beach, he’s the most recent winner on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule after edging teammate McLaughlin in a thrilling photo finish March 20 on the Texas Motor Speedway oval.
“To have the effort pay off so quickly into the season for us has been encouraging,” Newgarden said. “The mood is really good. We had great cars. It was a great effort from the whole team, and I think you saw the strength of that across the board with all three of us. To be able to capitalize that early is important in any season.”
The only thing playing against Newgarden’s wave of momentum is that only once in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career has he won back-to-back races, coming in 2017 when he followed up his Toronto win with a victory at Mid-Ohio.
But a confident driver and a wave of momentum can buck any trend.
Live coverage of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, April 10 on NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.