Could Ryan Phinny and Casamigos be in IndyCar in 2015?

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The answer to the above headline: Quite possibly. And the odds are better than you think.

In case your first reaction to “Ryan Phinny” is “Who?” and your first reaction to Casamigos is… well… “Who?”, here’s a couple brief primers.

Phinny, 25, is an American driver out of Los Angeles who has competed off-and-on since 2005 in Formula BMW USA, the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, American Le Mans Series and most recently, Indy Lights. He ran five Indy Lights races this past season, three with Bryan Herta Autosport before switching to Belardi Auto Racing for the Sonoma doubleheader season finale (best finish of sixth, but featured within top-five all weekend there in practice and qualifying).

Casamigos is an American tequila company who has three partners, George Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman. Yes, that George Clooney (we elaborated a bit more on the brand when Phinny’s BHA Lights deal was announced this past summer).

The intriguing part of this potential deal that could see Phinny in a full-season ride in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series is that it’s an American driver putting together a business-to-business deal in order to further both entities’ respective goals.

And in 2014 into 2015, that’s the way drivers have to get rides – Americans doing it is a rare story these days.

“Basically that’s how you have to do it, just the way you mentioned it,” Phinny told MotorSportsTalk. “Tequila is a Mexican product but Casamigos is an American company; it’s a very pro-American business. So we sat down and it was, ‘This is what I can offer you,’ and we worked at it.

“I was basically broke for three years. But we made meetings at retail accounts. I worked hand-in-hand with distributors to make sure they had a great program. When you can do that for a company, i.e. a liquor company, and you can get in a big chain (California Pizza Kitchen in Casamigos’ instance) this helps a company get jump-started. It helps instill their confidence in me.

“The way people used to go about it was the sticker-slapping way of putting stickers on the car. But I had to go back and see this is what they need, what benefits them, and I had to get them what they wanted.”

So, B2B connection established, Phinny was a surprise name in the Indy Lights field when he returned after a three-year hiatus to the series starting at Toronto.

Phinny got reacclimated and by Sonoma, he was quickly on pace with new teammate Gabby Chaves at Belardi – Chaves, of course, went on to win this year’s Indy Lights championship. And Casamigos liked what they saw both in the driver and the series, as a new sponsor.

“I think right now, we both see there’s more potential in IndyCar now than in F1 or Europe,” Phinny explained. “They see a sport that’s ramping up. It fits their profile, which is an ultra premium beverage, and a sport that is a high-end lifestyle. I see a lot of potential in it.”

This then leads to the next part… an available team. Phinny has said he has been in talks with Chevrolet teams, and by process of elimination that rules out Penske and Ganassi, but leaves open CFH and KVSH Racing.

CFH is out though, for two reasons. One, the team’s only open seat is a partial season ride for road and street courses with Ed Carpenter driving the ovals. And two, tequila and vodka generally don’t mix well.

“That wasn’t so much an issue for Casamigos, because it’s vodka and tequila – two entirely different types,” Phinny said. “It’s just confusing for (CFH) to have both. Fuzzy’s is a great partner for them, and they’re committed to the season.”

KVSH – either as KVSH or as just KV Racing Technology – has its second seat available. A third car there also could be possible; the team has operated three full-time cars before (2010-2012).

Phinny is optimistic he’ll be testing by mid-January at Sebring and potentially New Orleans. If he does, that will be his first day in the latest Dallara DW12 chassis.

Like other drivers, Phinny’s biggest stumbling block throughout his career has been a steady, consistent full-time program, which is why he is seeking and pushing for this so hard right now.

“My issue in Lights seemed to be the inconsistencies of the program itself,” he said. “In sports cars when I had a consistent program and good testing, we were at the front of the pack.

“I’ve grown up with most guys that would be rookies. It’s been a while since (Alexander) Rossi and I raced. But people’s styles don’t change. It could be a great year.”

Casamigos has let the cat out of the bag with a teaser image posted to its social media channels (the lead image here), and Phinny tweeted this just after the holidays.

View this post on Instagram

The Casamigos Sleigh #CasamigosGear

A post shared by Casamigos (@casamigos) on

And additionally, with American rookies in IndyCar so rare these days –Josef Newgarden was the most recent one in 2012, with Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand in 2011 before that – it’s been a while since there’s been this fresh a face.

We’ll see whether this materializes in full, but the odds are good this could go down smooth.

Ryan: Second title a stressful soup good for Josef Newgarden’s soul

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MONTEREY, Calif. – At her family’s home in Nashville, Tennessee, Tina Newgarden always keeps an extra stash of corn chowder in the freezer.

She never knows when her son, Josef, unexpectedly might drop by in desperate need of his go-to comfort food.

“It’s just in case I’m not at home, and he just goes in and grabs it himself if he’s coming home from out of town,” Tina said with a knowing smile. “And then you’ll catch him down there eating his favorite soup and watching a movie.”

When he gets done this week with the whirlwind of media obligations required after becoming an NTT IndyCar Series champion for the second time, you probably will find Newgarden curled up on the couch with a warm bowl of old-fashioned goodness in his lap and an inspirational flick on the TV (perhaps a screening of “Return of the Jedi” for a Star Wars fan).

He was crowned Sunday as the best driver on a highly competitive circuit after a season of excellence (average start of 5.5, average finish of 5.6), but Josef Newgarden really has had a tough couple of months.

That was evident in the tears that flowed immediately after he exited his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and seemed ready to collapse in a pool of relief from the mental exhaustion and high anxiety that had followed his quest to become a two-time champion.

“I don’t ever cry,” Newgarden, 28, said Sunday after gritting out an eighth-place finish that clinched the championship in the season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway. “Actually, it infuriates my fiancée because I don’t think I’ve ever cried in front of her. It disturbed her in some ways. She’s like, ‘You never cry! I don’t know why you don’t do that. You should cry at some point.”

If there’s anyone who knew how the 2019 points battle weighed on him, it was Ashley Welch and the rest of Newgarden’s family – the outlet that was emotionally invested and supportive of his career but also provides a release from the tension.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with his father, Joey (left), his grandmother Karen Rasmussen (front), his fiancee, Ashley (second from right), and mother Tina (right) after his second championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

They were all on hand Sunday (including his father, Joey, and his “Mormor” Karen Rasmussen, the 80-year-old maternal grandmother who came from Denmark to attend her second IndyCar race) and shared in the culmination of what’s been a very emotional and eventful year (which still has wedding bells ahead).

Josef Newgarden with his grandmother (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Was it stressful?

“To say the least,” a beaming Welch said as she watched her fiancé hoist the Astor Cup on the championship stage. “The level of competitiveness in this sport is unreal. Any different guy can come in and win any different race.

“For him to be leading all of those different guys who had just as much potential, if not more sometimes. It means so much. We had a friend tell him after the first one, anyone can win one championship, but they remember you if you win two. So I think he feels like ‘Oh, it’s not just luck. I’m meant to be here.’ And that is …”

Welch paused and her voice briefly quavered as she watched Newgarden, whom she has been together with for seven years (they were engaged last October), hoist the Astor Cup above his head.

“Beautiful,” she smiled. “So I think you see all his emotion coming from it. I know him, and he’s thinking about how many people put their neck on the line to get him to where he is today. He talks about when he was little and starting to watch IndyCar racing, Penske was his pinnacle. Getting to drive for them but being able to perform and make an impact on their history, he feels it so much.

“You saw all the outpouring of “My dreams have come true! I’ve worked so hard, and they’re here!”

It certainly was a different feeling than two years ago when Newgarden won the pole position at Sonoma, led 41 laps and won punctuated his inaugural championship with a runner-up finish in the season finale.

Sunday’s drive was indicative of the weight – and wait — that Newgarden had endured while leading the championship standings for virtually six consecutive months since winning the season opener at St. Petersburg (he was out of the points only once – after a fourth in the Indianapolis 500 that now is the only void in his career).

“The first (championship), it was shocking and overwhelming,” Tina Newgarden said. “The second time it’s almost like he had this mark on his back because he’s been leading the points the whole season. So it would be really sad, devastating if he didn’t get it at the end of the season. But I’m so proud of him. He’s very disciplined. He just loves it so much.”

“If he’s down and has a bad day, then we’re down having a bad day as well. It’s terrible, but that’s just how it is. This is a good year, so now we can all breathe. The last two months has really been a little stressful. So yeah. We’ve been trying to keep the mood up, but God, I’m so happy!”

Newgarden, who qualified fourth and never had winning pace all weekend, said he felt “more nervous because I felt like this one was more ours to lose, and I thought we deserved (the championship). I didn’t want to make a mistake. I got a bit nervous in the middle of the race because I thought we were going down a rabbit hole we didn’t want to be down.”

But the very un-Newgarden-esque eighth – only the fourth time in 17 races he finished outside the top 10 this season – was the outcome of a sound pit strategy that delivered the title by 25 points over Simon Pagenaud, who proclaimed his Penske teammate “the most deserving guy” to win the title.

“It didn’t really start weighing on me until we got (to Laguna Seca),” Newgarden said. “I knew it would hit me here because it was double points. You know it’s going to be a very difficult situation. It’s just that intensity and that unknown, where if you make a small mistake, it can turn into a very big mistake. At another event, it wouldn’t be that way.”

Team owner Roger Penske noticed Newgarden had butterflies on the race morning before he would join Sam Hornish Jr. as the only American to win multiple IndyCar championships in the past two decades. “I think there’s so much emotion inside for someone like that because you’ve got to be perfect,” Penske said. “And I think the fact that he was able to execute the way he did, it was just a time to let it all out.”

Newgarden now is among lofty company on a list of multi-time champions at Team Penske that includes Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Al Unser and Gil de Ferran. And his four-win season helped him take a critical step toward putting his name with true IndyCar legends such as A.J. Foyt (seven championships), Scott Dixon (five) and Mario Andretti (four).

“I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s harder to win a second championship than a first,” he said. “And I think in a lot of ways, that’s true. It’s very difficult to win a championship. But then to follow it up and make it happen again, it seems like a bigger mountain almost.

“I don’t know what causes that. But I just had it in my mind that if we could get this done, it’d be the achievement of the year.”

It’s especially impressive considering everything Newgarden is trying to accomplish in 2019. Besides winning a championship, he also:

–Will be getting married Oct. 26 to Welch in Nashville;

Moved from Davidson, North Carolina, (near Team Penske headquarters) to his hometown;

–Began building a house with Welch, who also brought home a rescue pup named Zoomer (or affectionately known as “Zoom” around home). “They say a year, but it’s going to be a year and a half” to finish, Welch said with a laugh. “We were in a one-bedroom apartment. I told him I don’t want to have kids in a one-bedroom apartment.”

–Underwent several oral surgeries to correct some improper dental work from childhood.

“We could have taken a couple things off the plate,” Newgarden said. “But you know what? Everything needed to be done. We wanted everything to get done, and we’re doing it all. I don’t know how the year worked out, because (racing) is the priority. You do all those things and decide, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make the plate this full.’ But something still has to take the cake at the end of the day, and the racing is what does that. And everyone knows that’s the program, and this is the most important part of the year, because you don’t get that back.

“If you have an opportunity to race and compete for a championship, when it’s there, you’ve got to take it. So I tried to keep that at the forefront of my mind all year, and I made it the priority, but it was just a little more difficult with all the other things going on.”

Josef Newgarden kisses his fiancee, Ashley Welch, after winning the NTT IndyCar Series championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Welch, who knew nothing about racing while working as a princess cast member at Disney World when Newgarden “swept me off my feet,” provides a release valve. Though she is comfortable with being a knowledgeable member of the paddock (“I know what push to pass means. That was a big thing for me”), Welch also can help distract him from the pressure of IndyCar.

“I think it’s better to know less, because then he is able to escape at home and make home be home, and then work be work,” she said. “Because when you’re in a professional sport, you can’t really escape the work. It comes home with you whether in interviews or social media, or just obligations in general, or practice, or research. You’re always living in it, so I think it’s really smart to just have your home be home.”

In that sense, staying busy in his personal life has been good for the extremely affable Newgarden, a self-described introvert who gradually has withdrawn from social media in his late 20s.

Though he is as articulate and eloquent as any driver in auto racing, he also is happy to defer to his teammates on promotional opportunities because “I go home and am happy to be away from all of it. … I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just my introverted-ness that’s getting worse. I really try to do the best I can for the series and team and partners. It is so important to represent in the right way, but at the same time, it’s gotten harder” to be on social media in a professional setting.

“It’s all the racing,” Tina Newgarden said when asked about the source of her son’s stress. “Him building a house and all that, that’s nothing. That’s easy. (Winning a championship) is not easy. Anything else is easy.

“He got it, so I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the very lucky ones that made it here, because for every one, I’m sure there are 500 (drivers) looking in, wanting to have that. But he worked hard, and I just told him one time, ‘Don’t be so moody about it when it doesn’t go well.’ He’s still moody about it if it doesn’t go well! He’s still the same.”

That’s why the bowl of corn chowder still is waiting in her freezer.

A hearty meal for two-time champion who finally can relax.