Josef Newgarden pays it forward by helping a stranger, then eating Chipotle

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If you’ve followed some of our more off-beat Verizon IndyCar Series coverage over the last year or so, you’ll know we’ve hit two key items of Josef Newgarden’s life that don’t revolve around his day job piloting the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.

The first is that he saved a kitten in Baltimore last year (which he eventually adopted), and promptly secured his first career series podium later that weekend.

The second is that he loves Chipotle, despite a brief flirtation with Mo’s.

Anyway while Newgarden was en route for some Chipotle on Wednesday night, an off day with no track activity in the run up to Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, he ran across someone who needed help.

He then posted this photo to his Instagram page, with this description beneath it.

Today I want to post something a little different. I’ve been wanting to start a project for a little while now that I think is cool and means something to me. I met a new friend tonight by the name of Kevin Bruce. He’s 23 like me, loves sports (including IndyCar), admires comedians, and considers kindness one of his favorite things in life. I saw Kevin sitting outside in the rain asking for a bit of help and needing dinner. I was on my way to Chipotle to grab a quick bite and just thought it would be great to bring Kevin along. Nothing outlandish, just a nice meal out of the rain with a simple conversation to pass the time. I think being able to help your fellow human in this world, no matter how big or small the gesture, is so important, and keeping it at the forefront of your thoughts everyday should be a goal. I call this project #TodayIHelped and I hope you all find it fun to tag along with me and join in. PS. If you find Kevin in the streets of Indy and have a job opportunity available, please consider him. You never know who just might surprise you!

So here’s Newgarden, 23, meeting a fellow 23-year-old and paying it forward with a random act of kindness.

Newgarden described how this all went down during Thursday’s media day at IMS.

“It was super spontaneous,” he said. “I wanted to do something like that for a while. I wasn’t thinking ahead so much, but maybe wanted to start a project that would become cool. Post something about helping other people and telling their story.

“There’s not enough trendy, cool stuff on social media, of helping others,” said Newgarden, who is renowned in the IndyCar paddock for his social media savvy. “You have to make something cool to stand out, and one to do that is to ideally have people do a small gesture for others.”

This wasn’t planned – it just happened when Newgarden was heading for Chipotle.

“I saw him when I was rolling downtown to get Chipotle. He had a cardboard sign saying need ‘help, super hungry,’ and I got the place to go eat. We ate dinner together. He’s a pretty cool guy.”

Down the road, depending on how many of these stories Newgarden tells, he’s hoping to eventually put a website together and group the stories with that #TodayIHelped hashtag.

As for the cat? Newgarden said he might need company in the pet department.

“I’ve rescued a cat… so I need a dog to balance it out,” Newgarden said. “I’m the cat guy now. Got a little experience.”

In terms of his day job, Newgarden rolls off eighth for Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.