INDIANAPOLIS — Prior to the start of the NTT IndyCar Series season, Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden admitted he had come to peace with the fact he may never win the Indianapolis 500.
It was an acceptance that seemed strange considering Newgarden is the star driver for the winningest team in Indy 500 history with 18 victories.
Newgarden was only 29 years old at the time and had already won a pair of NTT IndyCar Series championships.
Newgarden has been around the Indianapolis 500 long enough to realize that the best driver and best team doesn’t guarantee victory. A driver must also have good fortune.
His best Indy finish was third in 2016. He was fourth in 2019 and fifth in 2020. But a true indicator is laps led. In nine Indianapolis 500 starts, Newgarden has led 38 laps.
Perhaps that is why he took such a sullen attitude of acceptance as he prepared for the new season.
“I’ve come to peace with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though,” Newgarden said. “That place does not owe you anything. That place doesn’t care how many races you have won. It doesn’t care how fast you are that month of May. It doesn’t care how many championships you have won; it just doesn’t owe you anything.
“If it never happens, it never happens.
“It’s relatively early in a career to make that assessment, but for me, that is how that place works,” Newgarden continued. “Michael Andretti never won at that place and he probably should have won it multiple times. It’s one of those tricky places where sometimes it doesn’t work out for somebody and sometimes it works out four times for a person.
“I do the same thing every year. I prepare the same. I think the key is to put yourself in position at the end of the race to win the race every year, and, hopefully, one of those years, it converts.
“That is all you can do.”
That doesn’t mean Newgarden doesn’t look at the Indianapolis 500 as the ultimate achievement. But for now, he is the best driver in the series that has yet to win the Indy 500.
“Right now, I’m comfortable with the fact that maybe I’ll never win this race,” Newgarden admitted. “But I’m also open to the fact maybe I will win it five years in a row. That would be cool. I think it is possible. At the same time, it may never happen.
“You show up every year and do the same job. I don’t think you should overthink it when you show up. Obsessing might lead to that,” he added. “You have to work on your process, if you have a good process. For me it’s showing up, making a good race car that goes all the way to the end, fighting to stay in the front group, getting to lap 170, putting yourself in position, then having the final shootout. That is what that place turns into.
“What has gotten tough at Indy is it used to be if you had a fast car, you didn’t have to work that hard to stay up front and put yourself in a position at the end. Now, you have to really work hard to stay up front. It has gotten so competitive now, you are fighting all race long, just to position yourself at the end. The position at the end is critical, but it’s not a given if you have a fast car. You have to fight to stay up there.
“For me, that is how the race has morphed over the last six or eight years.
“I’m not obsessing over it yet. It is paramount at our team. But you can only do so much.
“Hopefully, that place chooses me one day.”
Winning the Indianapolis 500 isn’t just encouraged at Team Penske; it’s expected.
An Indy 500 victory remains a dream and a goal for Newgarden, but he hasn’t allowed it to become an obsession. At least, not yet.
“We want to win an Indy 500,” Newgarden said. “For me specifically, that’s a big goal. I’ve not won that race. Obviously as a team, we’ve had a lot of success there. They’d like to add to that.
“For me, I’d like to get my first. Then the championship as well, yeah, we’re looking for another one. Obviously, I was hoping we were going to win our third championship last year and we could be working on the fourth.
“We’re going to have to go back to square one and try to knock off the third championship this season.”