Brad Keselowski led all but 17 laps Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway to win the Federated Auto Parts 400, while Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle earned the final two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Keselowski’s fourth win of 2014 also brought him the No. 1 seed for the Chase, which begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. It is also the 400th win in major racing competition for legendary team owner Roger Penske.
“What a night,” Keselowski told ESPN. “I pulled into Victory Lane and I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. These are nights that as a driver, you live for…I couldn’t ask for a better way to enter the Chase – to come in with a win and take the first seed.
“We’re ready. We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this [No. 2] team and Team Penske is clicking. [And the] 400th win for Team Penske – this feels so lucky, man, to have such an incredible team and car like we did tonight and be able to execute.”
Meanwhile, Newman earned the No. 15 seed with a steady ninth-place effort and Biffle, despite finishing two laps down, grabbed the No. 16 and final seed with a 19th-place result.
Biffle ended up making the Chase by just seven points over Clint Bowyer. The two-time Richmond winner was strong Saturday but ultimately finished third behind Keselowski and Jeff Gordon in a race he needed to win.
Jamie McMurray, another driver that had to win tonight, finished fourth instead. Kevin Harvick, who led the 17 laps Keselowski didn’t pace, came home fifth.
Pole sitter Keselowski led the race for the first 42 laps until Harvick, after using the high line successfully in the first stint, passed him for the point. A competition caution came out at Lap 50 due to earlier rains at RIR with Harvick leading Keselowski, Gordon, Bowyer, and Kurt Busch.
But in subsequent pit stops, Keselowski and Bowyer jumped Harvick for first and second respectively. Unfortunately for Bowyer, he got a poor restart at Lap 58 and had to settle in fourth, while Harvick moved to second and McMurray moved to third.
Bowyer got back to third around McMurray at Lap 82. A bit farther back, his fellow bubble drivers had mixed fortunes in this stint: Newman moved into the Top 10, while Kyle Larson dropped all the way to 15th at Lap 100 after restarting in sixth. As for Biffle (who entered Richmond holding the final Chase Grid position), he made minimal progress and ran 16th at the quarter-point of the race.
At Lap 120, Harvick again caught Keselowski and used the high line to clear him and start his second appearance at the front. Five laps later, debris on the back stretch brought out the first “true” yellow of the evening.
Another set of stops ensued for the leaders and once again, Keselowski won the race off pit road while Harvick slipped again to third behind Gordon leading into the restart at Lap 132. Also dropping positions in the pits was Bowyer, who fell to fifth after his jack man took a spill during his stop.
Outside of Bowyer taking fourth from McMurray at Lap 169, the Top 5 was pretty much static throughout the stint. Newman remained entrenched in the Top 10, Larson again slipped from that bracket after an early charge, and Biffle was still stuck in the mid-teens.
More stops began shortly after the halfway mark, with the leaders coming in starting around Lap 230. When the cycle ended, Harvick had gone to second and Bowyer to third – but Keselowski remained in P1.
A debris yellow at Lap 262 ended a 131-lap stretch under green conditions, but the Top 5 on the track all retained their spots after pit stops. The Lap 271 restart saw Bowyer pass Harvick for second, but Keselowski again pulled away.
As the race crossed the Lap 300 mark – 100 laps to go – Biffle’s grip on the final Chase spot had become tenuous. Unable to advance, he found himself one lap down in 20th and needing to have Keselowski stay in front of the winless Bowyer.
Biffle got some good news on Lap 319 when Gordon passed Bowyer for second ahead of a Lap 331 caution for – and we’re not kidding – a spectator having climbed up the catch fence in Turn 4.
While the local authorities saw to that situation, the leaders pitted. But as he had all night, Keselowski got another good stop from his No. 2 crew and won the race out to set up for what would be the final restart with 64 laps to go.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond – Federated Auto Parts 400 Unofficial Results
1. Brad Keselowski, led 383 laps
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Jamie McMurray
5. Kevin Harvick, led 17 laps
6. Joey Logano
7. Kurt Busch
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Ryan Newman
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kyle Larson
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
13. Brian Vickers
14. Kyle Busch
15. Tony Stewart
16. Danica Patrick ONE LAP DOWN
17. Kasey Kahne
18. Paul Menard TWO LAPS DOWN
19. Greg Biffle
20. Austin Dillon
21. Denny Hamlin FOUR LAPS DOWN
22. Carl Edwards
23. A.J. Allmendinger
24. Reed Sorenson
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. FIVE LAPS DOWN
27. Marcos Ambrose
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland SIX LAPS DOWN
30. Cole Whitt
31. Casey Mears
32. Josh Wise
33. David Ragan
34. Landon Cassill
35. Mike Bliss EIGHT LAPS DOWN
36. David Stremme
37. Michael Annett NINE LAPS DOWN
38. Alex Bowman
39. Travis Kvapil
40. Joe Nemechek, Lap 388, Running
41. Matt Kenseth, Lap 330, Running
42. Ryan Truex, Lap 313, Running
43. J.J. Yeley, Lap 31, Brakes
INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden was taught by his father that he could win the Indy 500, and he learned through his wife that it would be OK to always lose it.
After finally winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the typically unflappable two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion got choked up when discussing the importance of Joey Newgarden, who instilled “internal belief,” and Ashley Newgarden, who “helps make my world go round and sees the heartbreak more than anyone else.”
Monday morning, while Josef Newgarden made the rounds of photo shoots and media obligations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beaming family members lingered among incessant laughter on the Yard of Bricks – savoring the moment and recounting their supportive roles through a journey that took 12 tries (Newgarden tied the record for most Indianapolis 500 starts before his first victory).
For Joey Newgarden, it was turning a scrawny kid (“when Josef was 11, he was 4 foot 11, 67 pounds”) into the superstar with six-pack abs who proved a worthy main character in the first season of IndyCar’s “100 Days to Indy” docuseries.
For Ashley, there were the anguished and helpless days after many Brickyard disappointments that thrust her into the role of an indefatigable sports psychologist.
“In a lot of ways, it’s terribly difficult for someone like Ashley,” Newgarden told NBC Sports during a reflective interview late Monday morning in an antiseptic glass-paneled office on the fourth floor of the IMS media center. “She carries the burden more than anybody, and people don’t know that and see that. I’m not easy to be around when my heart’s broken.
“And when this place breaks your heart, it’s tough to leave here every year. I’m going to cry thinking about it. It’s really, really hard. And she just … endures it is probably the one way to put it. She has endured the pain. And I think it’s almost a harder pain than the pain I feel because she’s not asking for it, but she’s having to live it.
“And there’s more than just that. You think about the genuinely impossible odds that are so against you to make it to this level, and a lot of it is down to my mom and dad, and the way they literally laid everything on the line to make this happen.
“We don’t come from just some blank check group. I came from a great upbringing. We had great opportunity, but you really have to put everything on the line if you’re going to make this type of career work, and they did that. So to come against all these odds, and for all of us to be there together and win this race.
“It’s full circle.”
Josef Newgarden was ready to quit motorsports after his first full-bodied car race – a Southern Regional Skip Barber event in 2006 at Sebring International Raceway.
After a hugely successful career in go-karting, this was his chance to take a critical next step toward the major leagues, and it was happening on one of the most daunting, physically punishing road courses in the United States.
So on the first lap, Newgarden fully committed to taking the Turn 17 corner, pancaking his car into the wall with embarrassing overexuberance.
“It was basically a typical me move,” he said sheepishly. “I always overcook high-speed stuff. I love it. That’s what my essence is. I love a high-speed track. I will send it bigger than anybody. That was one of the days I oversent it into Turn 17 and overcooked it straight into the wall.”
There was another race the next day, but at dinner that night, Newgarden was having second thoughts.
“I was saying I don’t know if I want to do this,” he said. “I don’t know that I can do this. There definitely was doubt in a lot of ways, and I’m saying this stuff, and my dad made me run the race the next day when I didn’t want to run the race. That’s how much I was taken aback by the whole thing. He made me run the race. And most people would not ever guess that story that my dad is trying to help make me run the race the next day because I don’t want to do it, and because I feel like I can’t do it.”
It’s unfathomable to consider because Newgarden, 32, comes off as one of the most supremely confident drivers in IndyCar through a persona of unflagging optimism. Whether starting 17th (as he did in the 107th Indy 500) or first, he never betrays an iota of doubt that he can win every race.
Which, under the watchful eye of his father, is exactly what he did in the second Skip Barber race at Sebring.
It was “a big turning point” on the championship mettle required for big-time auto racing.
“There was a light bulb that switched for me for sure that I was like you have to dig deep,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those moments of do you want to do this or not? And I think you either change in that moment to fully get on board or not. Because you can’t be in the middle. You won’t run for Roger Penske in the biggest race in the world if you are.
“It’s weird to go back and talk about it because I know it’s become second nature to me. There’s so much pressure, there’s so much obligation of be you, be awesome. Talk to our sponsors. Be their representative. Get in the car, do a great job. The amount of commitment that people put on you. You just can’t crack.
“It must have been in there, and Joey just brought it out of me.”
Josef Newgarden describes his dad as “the ultimate believer” who was always there as his son barnstormed around the Midwest on dozens of go-kart trips from their home outside Nashville, Tennessee.
“He’s just a very distinct human being,” Josef said of Joey. “But he has an amazing talent for optimism, and that can’t be understated how he’s given that to me. I can be a very realistic and pragmatic person.
“Those don’t always line up, having extreme optimism and trying to be realistic about something and see all scenarios. I think I’m able to be both now. I try to see things truly for what they are, and I don’t overreach. But I also have ultimate belief that anything can happen and anything is possible. My dad embodied that from the very beginning.”
Though Joey refers to it as “putting in the work,” Josef Newgarden said there were immense sacrifices made by him and his mother, Tina, so their son could pursue the dream of becoming a professional race car driver with a single-minded focus.
“It was, ‘We don’t have enough money? We’ll get the money,’ ” he said. “We will figure it out. And I didn’t have to carry any of that burden when I was young. If we go into debt, who cares? We’ll figure it out. Are we out of opportunities? Doesn’t matter. We’ll figure something out and keep going.”
His father recalls it all as being my design of trying to mold a young teenager “who never had belief in himself” while competing in baseball, basketball and go-karts against bigger competition.
Joey Newgarden, who grew up sweeping floors for 75 cents an hour in Miami while working for his father in the business of photography chemicals, set to establish that the simple principles of hard work and a positive attitude can take someone to whatever station in life they desire.
“Maybe I was just trying to trick him,” Joey Newgarden, wearing an Indy 500 champion’s hat and dark sunglasses, told a few reporters Monday morning at IMS. “I was scrawny like that when I was a kid, too, and I didn’t really have a male role model doing that with me, so I had to try to come up with a plan. We’ve got two daughters and one son, and he was the youngest. And it was, ‘How are we going to do it and convince him that he can be No. 1?’ It’s tough competition out there.”
Though there was a physical aspect (Newgarden became a fitness fanatic in his later teens), much of dad’s grooming was on the attitude of his son, who has retained the competitive fire and grace as a world-class driver but shed being a poor loser.
“He was the biggest baby about racing cars,” Joey recalled with a laugh. “He wanted to win every race and lead every lap literally from the very beginning. And when he’d get out of the car, he was Tony Stewart Jr. He wanted to win every single time.
“I always told him you’ve got to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. Because if you don’t know how to lose, you don’t know what winning really means.”
Josef Newgarden said the crash in Sebring went a long way toward establishing his mental toughness.
“You either are hardened by that, and you’re steel,” he said. “Or you’re weak, and you’re not going to make it at this level. It’s just what it takes.
“From that point on, it was never again am I going to lack that type of belief. But Joey is central to the belief system. He should have full credit for that. It sounds simple, but not everybody can truly put their all into something and make it happen at all costs. He gave that to me.”
If his parents provided the immutable faith in pursuing a goal that seemed impossible, his wife of four years (and romantic partner of nearly a decade) gave him the gift of letting go of it.
Ashley Newgarden annually watched her husband agonizingly wrestle with the toll of coming up short in the Indy 500 (which Team Penske now has won a record 19 times).
“Every year, you see someone else get that, and you want it so desperately for yourself and you can picture it for yourself, too,” she said. “So with Josef, the heartbreak just comes from just the thought of, ‘Maybe I’ll never get this opportunity.’ And that’s the worst thing. Because you only get one chance a year, and you only have a certain amount of years you can do this and be competitive at it.
“And he knows that it’s now or never. Every year we left, it was just more hard and more hard and sadder and sadder and sadder.”
There was little she could do to console him, too.
“It’s the toughest part because she wants nothing more than to help, and she can’t help me,” Josef said. “That’s why I say she’s had to endure the pain because in some relationships that person is able to help the individual that needs it. And that doesn’t work for me. So she can’t help.”
Said Ashley: “There’s nothing you can say. Just give him your support. You can say, ‘That one hurt, it’s yours next year.’ But he’s such a realist, and he doesn’t need the coaching like that from me. You just have to be supportive, and my biggest focus was always how do we get him in a mentally stronger place before the next race and not let this bleed over, (and) he goes into the next race angry.
“It was always the focus of how do we somehow let this go and just put it on the back burner and kind of forget about it. This race is done. After the month, just forget about it until next year. Go to Detroit and have a good season.”
Eventually, Ashley helped Josef with landing in a place where he could divorce himself from some of the pain in the Indy misses. After his second IndyCar championship, Josef struck a new tone publicly about refusing to let the Brickyard define him.
“I think you have to get to that point, because if not, this will just eat you alive,” Ashley said. “And you’ll just not feel you’ve accomplished enough, even though it’s harder to win a championship. This is a very hard race to win, of course. But it’s harder to put together seasons and to be an IndyCar Series champion, but yet this race is more elusive, and you want this more almost.
“I think recently over the last couple of years, really the last year, he started to focus on ‘I’ve done my job. I’ve done everything that I can. I’ve given them two championships.’ I think he started to focus more on that, and he was going to do everything that he could, and it’s going to be enough, and if he doesn’t win the 500, that does not take away from his career. Because I think people think it does. And I think he just kind of let go of it.”
Newgarden described the new outlook as conceding he never might win the Brickyard despite the omnipresent belief that he could.
“I kind of grieved it in a way,” he said. “It’s a weird way to put it, but I’m going to grieve the Indy 500 and it just doesn’t matter if I don’t ever win it. I truly do not subscribe to this thesis that you have to win this race to have a complete career. Of course, I would love to win the race, and it is a huge achievement. And it is the most difficult race and the most accomplishing race to win.
“But it shouldn’t define your time in the sport if you’re given that time. So I grieved the possibility of it and said if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m not going to linger on it if it doesn’t work out.”
Ashley, who studied psychology in college, provides an emotionally intelligent yin to her husband’s coolly detached yang.
“She’s a very smart woman and more of an empath than I am, which is a little tough because she can be very emotional, and I’m not emotional at all half the time,” Josef said. “But she’s very intuitive with that type of mentality and trying to understand how to survive things and construct things in your brain or how to reason with things. So she’s definitely been most helpful for me to find balance in life.
“Because without her I would probably be a much darker, more miserable person. I would cut everything off and have no balance in my life without her. She’s really the only one that’s figured out how to give that to me.”
Serving as an unofficial nutritionist for her husband’s elite athlete lifestyle, Ashley has tried to find other ways to “make sure everything in his life is easy. Home, food, everything else is taken care of, and I don’t think it comes from a place of him needing that. But that’s how I show him love in those moments and am supportive.”
On the Sunday morning of the Indy 500, Ashley and Josef Newgarden usually awake to a stress level that never subsides.
It wasn’t there this year.
“It was so weird,” she said. “I’ll be honest, starting 17th, I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if we’re going to get up there’. But yesterday morning, we were so easy. And I don’t know if it was because I just felt so confident within. I think it was just a different change of mind for him and I. It was like if it doesn’t happen today, it’s OK. I think you have to get there mentally because if not, this will emotionally kill you.”
Joey Newgarden also has noticed an off-track calmness surrounding his family.
When Ashley gave birth to their first child, a son named Kota, in April 2022, Josef Newgarden joined his siblings in each having children within a 20-month span after the trio had gotten married within three years of each other.
His two sisters (the oldest works in pharmaceutical sales at a California company; the other is a registered nurse at a cancer research facility in Seattle) “are doing really well for themselves” to the delight of their parents.