Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Round 2014: Who fell short

4 Comments

In any playoff elimination format, there are always going to be those that came oh, so close, yet fell short of making it to the championship round.

In many instances, it’s heartbreaking, particularly for certain teams that had so much incentive and drive to accomplish something special this season, such as Jeff Gordon’s “Drive For Five” and Carl Edwards’ bid to leave Roush Fenway Racing in his final season with the organization as a champion.

Sadly, that’s part of what happened Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, as Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Edwards all ultimately ended up being eliminated.

Here’s a breakdown of those four drivers who fell short of both advancement and a chance for the championship:

JEFF GORDON

For the 13th consecutive season, Gordon’s drive for a fifth championship — the so-called Drive For Five — came up short.

Even though he finished runner-up to Harvick in the race, Gordon missed advancing to Homestead by one single point as Newman’s move on Larson knocked Gordon out.

While obviously disappointed, Gordon took things in stride.

“We have a lot to hold our heads up high about,” Gordon said. “The way raced this race, this whole Chase and the whole season, we raced hard, we raced together as a team.”

But Gordon also didn’t pass up the opportunity to surreptitiously blast Keselowski again for last week’s run-in at Texas.

“But I hope we taught somebody (veiled reference to Keselowski) you can race clean, still go out there and give it your best and you don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or to win the championship, Gordon said.

“This makes last week hurt that much more, but we did everything we could. Second just wasn’t good enough. Harvick was in another zip code. There was nobody that was going to get him today.

“We did a great job finishing second. I’m not happy about it, but at the same time, I’m really proud of what we’ve done this year and we’re going to try and win Homestead and end the season on a positive note.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI

Bad Brad is now Sad Brad. Keselowski failed to advance to the championship round, missing the cutoff by eight points, and also missing the chance to compete for his second championship in three seasons.

“We were just a little bit short,” Keselowski said somberly. “Kevin (Harvick) was really, really strong all day long. We just weren’t strong enough to win. We were strong enough to finish second or third, and wound up fourth. We have a lot to be proud of, just not enough.

“It doesn’t really feel good, but at the end of the day, we won six races and that’s a lot to be proud of. We’re going to wind up solidly in the top five or six points, so that’s an effort to be proud of, as well.”

MATT KENSETH

Kenseth was hoping to become the second driver to reach the championship round without having won a single race this season.

But in the end, the same guy who won a series-high seven races last season, remains winless and missed advancing to the championship round by a mere three points.

He pointed to last week’s race at Texas as being more of a reason why he fell short than his third-place finish in Sunday’s race.

“The last half of last week’s race was just disastrous,” Kenseth said. “I can’t say I’m surprised (he came up short Sunday). I’m pleasantly surprised in the way we ran today. These guys never gave up.

“We’re still going to go to Homestead and try to win the race. I was surprised we were out by one point last week, and we performed real good this week, but that just wasn’t enough.”

Can he still get that elusive first win of the season at Homestead, where he has won before?

“The performance just hasn’t been that good this year,” Kenseth said. “… We’re definitely a championship caliber team, we’re looking forward to go try and go win Homestead and get ready for next year and hopefully run (in 2015) like we did last year (2013).”

CARL EDWARDS

Edwards seemed like he was never in Sunday’s race from the opening green flag.

Sure, he managed to get up close to the top 10 a couple of times, but with the poor practices and qualifying effort he had on Friday and Saturday, it was just a matter of too little, too late for Edwards.

“We tried every trick that we could,” Edwards said. “We just didn’t have a lot of speed all weekend. The car actually drove pretty decently at the end, so I thought Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) did a great job with it. We just didn’t have enough speed, so that’s how it goes.”

Edwards ultimately missed advancing to the championship race by a fairly hefty 15 points.

In falling short, it ended his hopes for a Cinderella-like story that would have culminated in his first career Cup championship in his final season with Roush Fenway Racing.

“These guys dug deep and worked hard,” Edwards said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this where everybody just doesn’t give up. This means the world.”

Edwards had so wanted to leave RFR with a going-away title, but it was not to be. He’ll try yet again for a championship next season with his new home, Joe Gibbs Racing.

“We made it awfully far, so I’m very proud of everybody,” Edwards said. “We’ll just go to Homestead and try to get another win. Hopefully, Joey (Logano) can get the win and bring Ford a championship.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Through belief and grief, Josef Newgarden won Indy 500 with life lessons from his family

0 Comments

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).

VICTORY SPOILS: Newgarden earns $3.66 million from record purse

INSIDE TEAM PENSKEThe tension and hard work preceding ‘The Captain’s’ 19th win

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 father wife
Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden poses with parents Joey and Tina and his wife, Ashley, during the Memorial Day photo shoot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

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.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with parents Joey and Tina the morning after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“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.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with fans in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Jenna Watson/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“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.

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
Josef Newgarden with his parents, the winning No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and the Borg-Warner Trophy (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“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.”

Ashley Newgarden watches the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

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.

(Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

“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.”

Josef and Ashley Newgarden shared their winning Indy 500 moment with their 13-month-old son, Kota (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images).

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.

“It’s storybook, the whole thing,” Joey said. “It almost scares me at this point. When things go this well, you’re always waiting for something to go wrong.

He’s got a wonderful wife that he’s been with for 10 years, married for three or four. He’s got a great relationship. What is that movie with Jimmy Cagney? Top of the world, ma.”

And Josef Newgarden’s family says the 27-time IndyCar winner is not stopping there.

“I’ve never met someone that just wants to break all the records,” Ashley said. “I know everyone says that, but this dude, he knows the stats. He watches them. It’s never enough.”

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
(Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)