IndyCar/Forrest Mellott

Josef Newgarden has quickly gotten up to speed on ‘The Penske Way’

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INDIANAPOLIS – When a young driver makes a big jump to one of IndyCar’s most successful teams, it’s like putting on a new glove.

The driver has to fit the glove, has to make it work, his fingers have to work well with the other fingers in the glove, maybe cinch it tighter one last time and then he’s ready to go.

And then there’s guys like Josef Newgarden. The young Tennessee native has fit into the glove known as Team Penske and made the transition in one of the quickest times ever in the organization’s history.

After just five races, Newgarden has already won a race for his new team, is third in the point standings – just two spots behind teammate, series leader and defending 2016 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud (one now after Scott Dixon has unofficially taken the points lead with qualifying points) – and has made a very seamless transition to the most successful organization in IndyCar racing.

Now, Newgarden is on the eve of his first Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske, the most successful organization in the annals of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing with 16 triumphs in the first 100 running’s of the 500.

In a sense, Newgarden and his teammates are like the three – scratch that, make it five – Musketeers.

Newgarden, Pagenaud, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya (just for this race) have an understanding from team chairman Roger Penske that is, in effect, one for all and all for one.

Namely, each Penske driver should do everything he can to win, but if he can’t, then help out his teammates to see if one of them can win.

It’s the Penske Way.

“It’s very genuine,” Newgarden said of the tenor within the team, where each of the five are not just competitors, but they’re also friends on and off the racetrack.

“We all get along really well, which is odd, but it’s the ‘Penske Way,’” Newgarden said. “The Penske way is to be a team and work well together and help each other be better and we get that.

“We’re competitive, we want to beat each other, I want to beat all these guys and they want to beat me, but we work well together. It just makes you better as a driver and makes all of us better as a team.

“And at the end of the day, if we’re all the best, then we just have to fight each other, which is a good thing. The race is 500 miles, 200 laps, you have to go a long way. Anything can happen in this race. I feel good about that.”

Newgarden is like a Lotto winner. He went from a very good situation with Ed Carpenter Racing to becoming part of the winningest team in Indy 500 and IndyCar racing.

“They’re such a diverse group,” he said. “We’ve got drivers from all over that have done everything. You have a lot of information to go around, and then the history of the group is something you can’t deny. They’ve won 16 Indy 500s, they’ve got a lot of data on how to win this race.”

Newgarden feels he has a good chance to win his first 500 title – and add it to the lengthy Team Penske list of credits that also include 16 previous Indy 500 victories.

“It’d be huge,” Newgarden said. “Regardless of which team you’re with, it’s a big deal to win this race. Winning for Roger and Team Penske would be a big deal for me because of their success here. It’s special to be part of the group, but any time you’re running the Indy 500, it’s a big deal if you win the race.”

But don’t think Newgarden will have a different mindset in Sunday’s race just because his firesuit says Penske on it.

“I don’t think there’s a different mindset,” he said. “You approach the race the same way. I’m approaching it like I did last year (when he was with Ed Carpenter Racing).

“It’s still the same battle, you’re trying to make it to the end, trying to put yourself in position, so it’s really the same process. (Being with Team Penske is) a big group, they want to do well, Roger expects us to do well, but as far as the way you approach the race, it’s all the same.”

Newgarden approaches the 500 with a great deal of confidence. He knows he has a fast car that received some last-minute tweaks during Friday’s Carb Day. He’ll start 22nd.

Now, the stage is set for Sunday, and Newgarden minces no words of his agenda:

“My thoughts for the race are let’s get through Turn 1, hopefully our car is good, hopefully we won’t get an incident, let’s make it to the end and let’s try and win.”

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Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.