Josef Newgarden scoring the 25th victory of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career last Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway was only a nugget compared to the fact he has drawn within three points of the series lead with two races to go in the season. But it’s significant.
That victory tied Newgarden with Gordon Johncock for 16th place on the sport’s all-time win list. Another win equals Rodger Ward’s career total, and two more gets him level with Johnny Rutherford, who stands alone in 14th place.
Then there’s this to digest: Newgarden only needs four more wins to catch Rick Mears. The magnitude of that is not lost on Newgarden.
“I forget about (the accomplishments) sometimes,” said Newgarden, driver of Team Penske’s No. 2 Chevrolet. “I get so focused on the day to day, just the process of (becoming) the best in any facet, whether it’s the way I examine data, the way I work with the team, my fitness regimen. I get lost in that perfection.
“I forget how cool this has been.”
Newgarden’s win total at the start of the season ranked 22nd in the sport’s history, but winning the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline took him to victory lane for the fifth time in 2022, his personal season best. Newgarden has won a race in each of the past eight seasons, and this is the fourth time he has won at least four races in a year.
The last NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver to win at least five in a season was Simon Pagenaud with Team Penske in 2016. Pagenaud won the season title that year.
Since joining Roger Penske’s organization for the start of the 2017 season, Newgarden has averaged 3.7 wins per season while capturing two NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships. Should he overhaul teammate Will Power for the lead and hold off all challengers, he would have his third series title before turning 32, which he does on Dec. 22.
There are three active drivers with more career wins than Newgarden – Scott Dixon has 53, Power 41 and Helio Castroneves 31 – but only Dixon had more wins at his 32nd birthday than Newgarden will have. Dixon had 28. Castroneves and Power each had 18.
Ironically, Castroneves and Dixon earned their 25th career victories in the final two races of the 2010 season. Castroneves’ win at Twin Ring Motegi came in the 225th start of his career; Dixon was competing in his 169th race when he won at Auto Club Speedway. Power needed only 144 races to win No. 25. Newgarden reached the mark in his 179th start.
It’s anyone’s guess how high Newgarden will climb in the charts, but an average of 3.7 per season would put him above Dixon’s current level before he’s 40.
“Hey, I’m not stopping,” Newgarden said. “Let’s see what happens.
“We need to get 10 wins a year, that’s where my mind is at.”
Like any driver worth his salt, Newgarden hasn’t forgotten the races that he was in position to win, such as the second race of last month’s Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. He led 208 of the 250 laps in winning the Saturday race, then crashed as the race leader in the Sunday race. He was leading his 149th lap of the race and had a commanding lead when the car suddenly spun into the Turn 4 wall.
And Newgarden has left many tracks in recent years believing he had the car to win.
“Honestly, just this year I think we had the potential for maybe seven (wins),” he said. “Then you’ve got two more (races) to go (Sept. 4 at Portland International Raceway and Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca). So, we’re getting better, for sure.
“I think if we can figure out how we can rip off a season with 10 or 12 wins that would be impressive. That’s where my mind is at. I don’t know if that’s possible; it’s getting more difficult to do that. People may think I’m joking by saying that, but I really am thinking (about double-figure-win seasons).”
A.J. Foyt (1964) and Al Unser (1970) share the series record for wins in a season with 10. Since 1990, three drivers have won eight in a season (Michael Andretti in 1991, Al Unser Jr. in 1994 and Sebastien Bourdais in 2007).
Newgarden said he will continue to win season championships if he can get strong results more consistently.
“It’s more than just the wins, it is the consistency,” he said. “How often can you be on the podium? That’s becoming more and more important these days, top fives, podiums, being there every single weekend, not having any hiccups. Blending that with great races where you’re winning is ultimately the package you have to have.
“If we can just keep accelerating the wins, I think that’s good for all of us.”