MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has some extremely lofty goals for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Series season. He wants it to be the beginning of his own five-for-five drive for the series championship.
That’s five championships in five seasons.
No driver in IndyCar Series history has won five championships in a row. The closest was Sebastien Bourdais, who won four Champ Car World Series championships in a row from 2004-07.
Newgarden has extremely high goals, but are they achievable?
“I have to shoot for the stars,” Newgarden said. “It’s one year at a time. I think it would be a mistake to focus on a five-year outlook. For me looking at it year by year is a strong approach. To stay in a championship year is always the best mentality.
“We are focused on 2022 with the outlook of five years out, but I think our immediate focus is on the next championship and everything we need to do to not only challenge for the championship, but also an Indy 500 win.”
Ever since winning two NTT IndyCar Series championships in his first three seasons with Team Penske, Newgarden has enjoyed solid, steady and somewhat successful seasons in 2020 and 2021.
He won four races, including the last race of the season in 2020, to finish 16 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who won his sixth IndyCar Series championship.
This year Newgarden won twice, with victories at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and World Wide Technology Raceway and finished second in the season-finale during the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. However, for the second year in a row, he finished second to the champion.
This time, it was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou who denied Newgarden. Palou finished 38 points ahead of Newgarden to celebrate his first IndyCar championship in his second season in the series.
“I thought it was a really good year overall,” Newgarden said. “When you are fighting for the championship, it’s within the realm of a positive year. The first challenge is getting yourself in contention for a championship. If you are able to do that, it’s a matter of finishing it off.
“Unfortunately, we came up short again similar to 2020. A little bit different story. I thought in 2020 we were better throughout the whole year and really strong, the strongest in my opinion in the championship. This year in 2021 we weren’t the strongest, but we were competitive throughout and stayed in the fight.
“I think it was a good year. A lot to learn from and we should be stronger next year.”
It appears that the NTT IndyCar Series field has to race – and beat – Newgarden in order to win the series championship.
“I’m satisfied to some degree with what we have been able to do in those first five years together,” Newgarden said. “I’d be lying if I said that’s really all we ever wanted. Five championships in five years would sound better to me.
“I would like to figure out over the next five years how we can win five championships in a row instead of only two. If we can be a little more consistent overall and avoid the pitfalls that we have seen over the championship years, I think it’s possible. We are always in the contention and always in the fight. If we can maintain that sort of form, figuring out how to close some of the gaps and win five championships in a five-year span is doable for us.”
Step one in that quest could be improvement in the Indianapolis 500. Team Penske is the most successful and iconic team in the history of the Indianapolis 500 with 18 wins – far more than any other team.
Simon Pagenaud was the last Team Penske driver to win the Indianapolis 500 when the Frenchman drove to victory in 2019. What followed was two straight years of disappointment at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place that Roger Penske now owns.
A lack of speed plagued the team in 2020. Newgarden was the highest Team Penske driver on the grid in 13th. He finished fifth.
Last year was even worse for the team as Newgarden started 21st and finished 12th. Pagenaud was the highest finishing Team Penske driver. He started 26th and finished third in a race won by longtime Team Penske star Helio Castroneves, who was driving for Meyer Shank Racing.
That victory was historic as Castroneves won his fourth Indianapolis 500 to join A.J. Foyt, the late Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four times.
This year, Pagenaud moves over to Meyer Shank Racing, where he will once again be teammates with Castroneves.
Because the Indianapolis 500 pays double points, it also means double trouble for drivers that finish poorly in the race.
“In 2021, it was a difficult year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for us,” Newgarden said. “It wasn’t for a lack of effort. A tremendous amount of work went in. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out. Some of the areas we focused on didn’t bear as much fruit as we thought. We turned a blind eye to some other areas we should have worked on.
“We are going back and double-down on our efforts and hopefully come back and be a lot stronger. We expect to be strong there.
“We can’t accept anything less than excellence when it comes to the Indianapolis 500.”
Newgarden has never won the Indianapolis 500. He is the best driver in the series that has yet to win the Indianapolis 500.
A win in that race could be the boost he needs to at least begin the incredibly high goal of five championships in five seasons.