Since rejoining the United States racing scene in 2011, Josef Newgarden has established himself as one of its great characters.
Whether he was running around incognito at the streets of Long Beach or Texas Motor Speedway to promote his rookie IndyCar season (while also professing his fandom of Dario Franchitti) or giving a tour of St. Petersburg, Florida ahead of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 26-year-old has consistently illustrated a knack for entertaining fans and maintaining a polished demeanor for sponsors.
Those traits, along with supreme driving talent, made him an obvious fit for Team Penske.
Newgarden’s media prowess was on display again on Thursday when he posted a Twitter video promoting the 101 Days to the Indy 500 festivities. In the video, Newgarden is seen next to a small refrigerator packed with Miller Lite and offers to supply the beverage to everyone celebrating the upcoming 101st Indianapolis 500. The video turns humorous when the person filming Josef reminds him that there is not enough Miller Lite to supply everyone who may want to celebrate, prompting him to admit that you may need to purchase your own if you want to join in the festivities.
For roughly 35 seconds, the video appears to be little more than a promotional video again displaying Newgarden’s charismatic personality.
However, it concludes with Newgarden making a peculiar statement. “Make sure you buy some Miller Lite and support the No. 2 car with me driving for Team Penske,” he asserted as the clip ended.
The wording is curious and could imply that Miller Lite might be sponsoring him in some capacity during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, possibly at the Indianapolis 500. Reddit users picked up on this facet relatively quickly, and a debate ensued.
While there are team owners, such Roger Penske, who run teams in multiple disciplines, it is rare that they’ll use a driver to promote a brand that supports a team in an entirely different discipline, even if that team competes under the same organization.
Miller has been a staple with Team Penske for decades, most notably with their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team. The brand, now under Anheuser-Busch ownership, has sponsored the No. 2 NASCAR team for more than two decades, beginning in 1991 with Miller Genuine Draft. Miller Lite adorned the entry beginning in 1997, resulted in the famed “Blue Deuce” paint scheme, and maintains a presence to this day, though the color scheme of the car is now predominantly white, resulting in the informal nickname of the “Blanco Deuce.”
However, Miller is no stranger to Penske’s IndyCar program. It was featured prominently in the 1980s on Danny Sullivan’s car, with the combination winning the 1985 Indianapolis 500 and the 1988 PPG Indy Car World Series championship together. Miller branding was also featured on Bobby Rahal’s IndyCar teams cars from 1992 through 2003.
Of note, the No. 2 machine that Newgarden will pilot in the Verizon IndyCar Series has featured a series of rotating sponsors, including Verizon, DeVilbiss, PPG, and Hawk Performance, as well as Roger Penske’s Penske Truck Leasing, and Newgarden carried a Verizon livery at the recent Phoenix test.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.