Amid the Olympic break, both Josef Newgarden and INDYCAR are preparing for a return to Nashville to jump-start the final stretch of the season.
A four-weekend break calls for an exciting return to action for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and Newgarden will get to do so from the comforts of his hometown.
Newgarden, born and raised in the Nashville suburbs and a Nashville resident, is making his first INDYCAR appearance in his hometown at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Sunday, Aug. 8 on the streets of the city. It’s the first time the series has raced in the area since 2008, when an eight-year run ended at the Nashville Superspeedway oval, located outside of town in Lebanon. Newgarden made his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in 2012.
“I really believe it’s a match made in heaven,” Newgarden said. “It’s in a city that supports events. Generally, people in Nashville don’t care what the event is; as long as there’s an event going on, they’re showing up.”
When it comes to building an INDYCAR street course with staying power, a lot of different factors go into it, from the excitement to the destination to the infrastructure to the ownership group and then having the buy-in from all parties involved.
Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, knows first-hand what Nashville is capable of and thinks the race will become a staple of the INDYCAR schedule.
“Everyone at the table here is first class and in position to not only make this work for the first year but figure out how to make it work for many years to come,” Newgarden said. “It’s a great promoter group. It’s a great ownership group. They actually live and breathe motorsports; they understand it, and they love it.”
It is a surreal feeling for Newgarden to have a hometown race, not only because it is an INDYCAR race, but because it is a street-course race in Nashville.
“I just never dreamed of that,” Newgarden said. “I thought maybe one day maybe we’ll go back to the Nashville Superspeedway, which I had been to. I had seen INDYCAR events out there when I was a young kid. But to have a brand-new street course facility that actually runs over the bridge is just gnarly.”
One of the hallmarks of the 2.17-mile circuit is crossing the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River twice per lap.
While Newgarden is pumped to compete in an INDYCAR race at home, the hectic race weekend will bring different pressures for the hometown boy. There are requests for tickets from friends and family, charity events such as his annual ping-pong tournament and a variety of other special functions to attend.
“It’s going to be jam packed; there’s going to be a million things to do,” Newgarden said. “The city’s going to be very busy. It’s going to be a busy weekend and from the driver standpoint, just trying to make sure our list is small so that we can be ready to go again on Sunday’s is really important.
“At the end of the day, I drive the cars. That’s my job. And I think the best way that I can help the event is making sure they get the track as solid as possible, which is a big equation. These environments are tough to get right on the first go round, but the more right we can get it in the first year, I think the better chance the event has to really flourish.”
Newgarden is doing all this work in addition to hosting his annual charity ping pong event for the SeriousFun Children’s Network on Thursday, Aug. 5. The event was scheduled in Indianapolis around the Indy 500, as usual, but canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, Newgarden chose to reschedule the charity event closer to home and is selling 100 tickets to raise even more money for a good cause.
“This is much more than just a motorsports race,” Newgarden said. “That’s the highlight of it for me and it will be for a lot of people, but it’s also an event and the music and the festival atmosphere that they’re creating is going to be second to none.”
The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix kicks off the stretch run of the season for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, where Newgarden ranks fourth in the points standings, 13 behind third-place Scott Dixon and 69 points behind leader Alex Palou.
Newgarden’s homecoming is on the tails of his first win of the season as he captured the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, leading 73 of 80 laps.
“We need to perform well,” Newgarden said. “Each race is critical. We’re not in a perfect position points-wise, but we’re in the fight, and every race is going to count now leading to the finale.”
With six races to go in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, what better place to make a final push for a third championship for Newgarden then back home in downtown Nashville.
“I think we’re really stout on street courses,” Newgarden said. “I actually think we have a good car to bring to Nashville and even Long Beach toward the end of the year. I really feel confident of where we’re at overall.”