Josef Newgarden

Another year, another race victory for Josef Newgarden.

The hits keep on coming for this Team Penske driver. Sunday’s victory in the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway not only was his second in as many years at the 1.5-mile oval track, it extended his string of winning seasons to nine and started his engine toward what could be a third NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in the past seven years.

Here’s the other thing: Newgarden had yet another lead engineer working with the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, his third in as many seasons. With all due respect to first-time engineer Luke Mason, it hasn’t seemed to matter who is leading Newgarden from the pit stand.

Sunday, Newgarden led 123 of the 250 laps, with only Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing able to keep pace from green flag to checkered flag.

“Yeah, well, you know,” Newgarden said of the laps he didn’t lead at Texas. “It would have looked silly if we had led the whole race – (so) just trying to keep it fun.

“People would have said it’s a conspiracy for PPG (to lead the whole race). Don’t want to see that happen. Let Pato have his fun, then I had to put him away.”

Newgarden’s smile blew his cover, but everyone who saw this race knew Newgarden and O’Ward were the class of the field, and it was Newgarden – again – who delivered the best moves in the clutch. Last year at Texas, Newgarden trailed teammate Scott McLaughlin through most of the race – McLaughlin led 186 laps – only to overhaul him coming off Turn 4 on the final lap. This time, Newgarden emerged from the jockeying with O’Ward to have the lead as the caution came less than two laps from the finish.

Newgarden admitted he and his crew “were getting beat pretty significantly” in the middle of Sunday’s race as O’Ward lapped all other drivers in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. But when it mattered most, Newgarden was at the front, and he put his crew at the front of the credit line as it perfectly managed pit stop strategy in the last 50 laps.

Remember, this is a team that left last month’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding with a bad taste in its mouth after finishing 17th.

“I’m proud of the team, honestly,” Newgarden said. “Obviously, personally it’s satisifying, but I think it’s more gratifying for the people (who) are on the car. There’s a lot of new people on the 2 car, specifically. I know each individual and what they can do.

“Just coming back (from St. Petersburg) is big validation for all of them. I think it gives them a lot of belief. So, we’re going to leave here in a good spot.”

The victory was the 26th of Newgarden’s career, moving him into a tie with Rodger Ward for 15th place on the sport’s all-time list. The next win will align him with Johnny Rutherford’s career total, and three more wins draws him even with Rick Mears. How’s that for a driver who only recently turned 32 years old?

Newgarden’s career now includes 12 victories on oval tracks, and the season is set up nicely for him as it relates to scoring more wins and a third career season championship.

Next up on the schedule is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 16 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network). Newgarden is the defending champion of the race, and he has finished first or second in each of the past three years. He has finished on the podium in four of the past five trips to the iconic street race in Southern California.

Following Long Beach is the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on April 30 at the Barber Motorsports Park road course, where Newgarden has won three times. After that, the GMR Grand Prix on May 13 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a circuit on which he won in 2020.

Fifteen races remain this season, and Newgarden has won at races at eight of the 12 venues where the INDYCAR SERIES has previously raced. It’s probably best for the competition that the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 4 will be staged at the new downtown circuit as Newgarden won on Belle Isle in 2019 and had captured the past two poles. Newgarden also will be the defending champion at Road America (June 18) and World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 27), the latter an oval where he has won the past three races.

Then there’s Iowa Speedway, which will host a doubleheader July 22-23. Newgarden has won four of the series’ past eight races on that short oval and had led 73 percent of the laps last year before a mechanical failure led to an accident in Race 2.

“I think we have to focus on having good, clean weekends going forward,” Newgarden said. “Everybody knows the game – it’s a game of averages when you look across the championship, and we have to be the best at that.”

Remember, Newgarden predicted he might one day when 10 races in a season, and that was said after he won five last year.

“Those were not grandiose statements; they were true what I said, what I thought was possible on the 2 car,” he said. “Six months in an offseason you start to think if that’s true, if we’re still capable of that. Leaving St. Pete, it’s always natural to have those thoughts. I was ready to get (to Texas) and get on the board, as I say.

“(Winning) is very validating for stuff like that. It just validates my self-positivity, but it also confirms what I felt about the team. I know how good the people on the 2 car are. Doesn’t matter that they’re new. I know who’s on (the crew), what they’re capable of.

“I hate making these type of statements, but we’re in a really good spot – a really good spot.”

If that’s true, the rest of the field might not be.

Newgarden’s victory on an oval track sets him up for another run at the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge, which rewards the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver in a season to win on all three types of tracks with a $1 million bonus. Newgarden earned the big bonus last year, which was split with his team and a pair of his chosen charities, SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville. Each race winner this season also receives $10,000 from the PeopleReady prize fund.