American Newgarden a rising star in IndyCar

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — The last time IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden was in town, he threw out the first pitch at the Tigers game at Comerica Park in mid-April to promote the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

Now, Newgarden will be on Belle Isle this weekend to take care of business in the IndyCar series’s lone doubleheader — 70-lap races run on Saturday and Sunday — on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course.

Newgarden, the 25-year-old American, is a rising star in the series, entering action this weekend fourth in points following a season when he won his first two career races (Alabama, Toronto) to finish seventh in the standings.

“I was happy last year that we were able to seal the deal finally,” Newgarden said. “I feel like we had been close many times before, but couldn’t get it done where we could have won the race and it didn’t happen, which is partly down to racing in general. There’s a lot of things that have to go right to win a race. There’s a lot of factors where you have to have good pit stops, car can’t break, can’t put it into the wall.

“I was really pleased with our whole group for getting some solid results for all the work that we put in the years before, and now it’s just about replicating that. It would be awesome if we could get a couple more wins this season.”

Newgarden came up just short of winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday when he led with seven laps remaining before being forced to pit with five laps left for fuel while running second to Carlos Munoz, leading to his second third-place finish of the season.

Newgarden, competing for Ed Carpenter Racing in a Chevrolet, just missed winning the pole for the Indy 500 when James Hinchcliffe beat him in the final minutes. After starting in the middle of the front row, Newgarden stayed with the lead pack throughout the day, dropping back to eighth at the midway point before getting back in contention in the final 25 laps.

Now, it’s on to Belle Isle, and Newgarden is excited with the opportunity to get double points with the doubleheader.

“It’s a bumpy track, the bumpiest street circuit we go to all year, and that makes it challenging from an engineering standpoint to make the car work,” Newgarden said. “But, it’s also very grippy, and when it’s bumpy and grippy at the same time it’s kind of hard to hold on to the thing because the steering wheel wants to rip itself out of your hands, so that’s definitely a challenge.

“One race beats you up, so two races drains you good, and you really have to kind of have two good days because if you only have one good day it can hurt you in the championship. You could come out of Indy and Detroit leading the championship, possibly … if you have really good days.”

Newgarden likes how Grand Prix chairman Bud Denker and his staff have made changes to the track during the past couple of years to make for better racing.

“You have more width to work with, more area to put your car ahead of people so they achieved making it racier for sure,” Newgarden said. “It’s a great passing zone off of Turn 2 to Turn 3, and what they did last year with the backstretch off of Turn 6 and heading into Turn 7, it used to be more of a kinked back-straight so you have a straightaway and it would kink left before taking the right-hander of 7.

“What they did was kind of open up the kink and make it wider so that it was more of a straightaway into that back-braking section into Turn 7 so now there’s more passing room into 7. You also have the long straight into 3 and then they widened the final two corners.”

Newgarden will be going up against the heavyweights in the likes of Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Montoya and Simon Pagenaud, along with star Scott Dixon of Ganassi Racing. Pagenaud is the points leader. Power and Dixon are series champions the last two years.

“For me, it’s exciting to be a young guy in IndyCar and try to take on the best of the best,” Newgarden said. “If you’re going to be successful within the sport, you want to have success up against guys like that.

“Dixon I think is one of the best. He’s really an impressive individual with what he’s done, from Indianapolis 500 wins to championships to his consistency on race wins. He’s just one of those guys you kind of aspire to be like.”

Dixon is a former Indy 500 winner and four-time series champion.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Belle Isle

TV: The two Dual in Detroit IndyCar races (Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.) are on ABC.

Tickets and info: detroitgp.com

Friday highlights

7:30 a.m. — Gates open

10:45 a.m. — IndyCar practice

12:15 p.m. — Super Truck Series Race 1

2:40 p.m. — Trans Am qualifying

3:30 p.m. — IndyCar Dual I qualifying

5:05 p.m. — SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday highlights

7:30 a.m. — Gates open

8:55 a.m. — Trans Am Race 1

10:05 a.m. — IndyCar practice

11:05 a.m. — Super Truck Series Race 2

11:20 a.m. — IndyCar drivers autograph session

12:40 p.m. — SportsCar Championship race

3:30 p.m. — IndyCar Dual I, Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans

Sunday highlights

8 a.m. — Gates open

10:45 a.m. — IndyCar Dual II qualifying

11:40 a.m. — Trans Am Race 2

2 p.m. — Super Truck Series Race 3

3:30 p.m. — IndyCar Dual II, Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans