Detroit win set up Josef Newgarden for IndyCar championship run

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden won his second NTT IndyCar series championship for Team Penske in the last three years, finishing eighth in last Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, Calif.

Newgarden will continue his championship tour this weekend when he travels to Charlotte, N.C., to show off his No. 2 Chevrolet – with help from one of his sponsors, Shell – in an exhibition run after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series qualifying is completed Friday night.

Newgarden, a 28-year-old native of Tennessee, can credit his championship to a solid fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500, followed by a Race No. 1 win on Belle Isle in early June.

“The Indianapolis 500 becomes a very important event, not just because it’s the Indy 500 and the most pressure-packed race of the year, but it’s double points, so it’s very meaningful for the championship,” Newgarden said. “So finishing top-five there was quite important, and then that follows with Detroit, which is arguably just as important as a weekend (two races),” Newgarden said.

“It’s a very important weekend on the whole to make sure that you have strong performances, and we were able to do that for the most part. We won the first race on Saturday, which I thought was a big deal for Chevrolet, a big deal for Hitachi and also Team Penske. Everyone knows that we’re a big Detroit team. A lot of our heritage and lineage is deeply rooted in a lot of partnerships through Detroit, so we wanted to do well there, and for sure it helped set up a good championship run.”

It would be safe to say Newgarden had to feel good about his chances for a title run when he won the season opener at St. Petersburg.

After the win in Detroit, Newgarden won the following week in Texas, then again three races later at Iowa.

It was Roger Penske’s 16th IndyCar series championship and fourth in the last six years with Will Power (2014) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) also winning crowns.

In addition to his series-high four wins, Newgarden also had a series-high 12 top-five finishes and led a series-high 490 laps.

“The biggest thing was bringing the championship to Team Penske; of course very, very happy that it worked out for us on the 2 car, but it was a team effort as it always is,” Newgarden said.

“I felt like this year it’s been a great validation for me personally in my career, but also I’m very thrilled for our group that we were able to win the championship because I felt like our guys have done such a phenomenal job and put together what was a championship caliber year.”

American drivers are now making their way to the front of the pack in IndyCar racing with 28-year-old Alexander Rossi winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and finishing runnerup to Newgarden in the title chase this season, and 19-year-old Colton Herta winning two races this season, including the final at Laguna Seca.

“Well, it’s phenomenal what’s going on right now,” said Newgarden of U.S. drivers. “Motor sports is so cyclical where you find it going in these cycles of talent and the way that it comes through the ranks, and I think right now we’re in an era where we’re seeing a lot of young American talent starting to emerge again through our grassroots systems, which is the road to Indy, and it’s really cool to see that.”