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Josef Newgarden geared up for Belle Isle Grand Prix

Geoff Robinson
Special to The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — With the weather experiencing a renaissance in the Detroit area, talking about Indy Car Racing doesn’t seem too extreme for those ready to hear the engines roar.

The newest member of Team Penske, 26-year-old upstart Josef Newgarden, was at The Palace of Auburn Hills Thursday night for the Pistons’ game with the Charlotte Hornets to celebrate Detroit Grand Prix night.

Prior to the game, Newgarden received a No. 17 jersey from former Piston Earl Cureton.

“I’m a basketball fan,” Newgarden said. “But I grew up a Kobe Bryant fan, and if you ask me about Pistons history, I get a little lost.”

Despite his lack of knowledge about Detroit’s basketball history, Newgarden loves coming to Belle Isle for the annual twin races in Detroit. He says it provides a new kind of challenge coming off the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a huge mental shift,” he said. “Surface imperfections make it difficult and provide a different challenge. You have to set up the car differently here than at any other course.

"But with unique challenges comes opportunities. I enjoy that aspect because it provides a window to be better than everyone.”

Newgarden wouldn’t mind this unseasonably warm and dry February weather holding up come race weekend, either, as the Detroit Grand Prix has been typically marred by rain over the last few years.

“It feels like every year we come here it starts to rain,” he said. “It just seems to plague us.”

As a member of racing’s most prominent team following his departure from Ed Carpenter Racing in October, Newgarden is primed to build on a season that saw him earn one win and four podiums to go with his fourth place finish on the second day of racing at Belle Isle last June.

On the same day the National Basketball Association’s trade deadline passed, Newgarden was happy to say he wouldn’t be suffering through the same kind of rumors that can sometimes plague NBA players.

“How weird would that be if there were trades in racing?” he said. “Luckily we don’t do that. It’s an honor to be part of (Penske). You can’t choose them without them choosing you.”

The Belle Isle series is the only race weekend on the Indy Car circuit in which drivers race twice on Saturday and Sunday. This year’s Grand Prix takes place in Detroit on June 2-4.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.