IndyCar’s Mark Miles details pros, cons and difficulties of scheduling specific tracks

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Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles talked with media members Wednesday about the finer points of scheduling in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

He discussed many different tracks the series has raced on in the past, present and those it could return to in the future.

Auto Club Speedway (on schedule in some form off/on since 1997, IRL, CART and INDYCAR)

Scheduling – “For them to be successful, it really can’t be in the heat of the summer, and we get that.  So we gotta take that into account and look at the whole of those trade‑offs that we just talked about.  No one individual perspective is going to trump all the others.   

Attendance – “This is the third time I’ve been there for an IndyCar race, and I wasn’t wild about the crowd three years ago, but it was reduced, and I’m sure that the schedule and the weather contributed to that. So it is something that has to be taken into account and has to be worked through. It’s certainly not just about the weather, although I’m trying to be quite clear, we know the schedule had a lot to do with it.”

Phoenix International Raceway (not on schedule, last raced at in 2005, IRL)

“I don’t know that there are a lot of options. They’re not much different than Fontana for weather, so it ain’t gonna work in the summer, and they’ve got to work around, from their perspective, understandably, their other especially NASCAR events.

“So I think the focus has to be about them being so far away from their first Cup race as possible, which puts you in early February. So the judgments, or some of the considerations for them are what kind of space do they feel like they need to have between an IndyCar race and a Cup race to make them both successful.

“We would have been there before now if there were a bunch of options to choose from. I don’t think there are. By being willing to start earlier in the year, we talked about right after the Super Bowl, it does open up at least that option from our perspective … but there aren’t it’s not like there is two months between that and their first Cup race, so I think the judgments have to be made primarily by them about whether they can find a way to make ’em both work if that’s the set up. ”

Road America (not on schedule, last raced at in 2007, Champ Car)

“It’s a traditional track that’s had great history for us. We know that a lot of our fans and stakeholders, teams, would like to be there, we would like to be there. We think it’s important to talk with Milwaukee (The Milwaukee at State Fair Park) about that and we have and we do, and I think they understand that proximity can be a good thing, especially when there is cooperation between promoters and there can be a collaborative effort in effect, to build a fan base.

“From a Road America point of view, they don’t have a lot of flexibility on date. I think it’s pretty clear they would like, if we can do it, that they would like us to allow them to combine with their World Challenge event, which they just had, so they’re sort of a target on the board, and the question is, can we hit it? But it’s a focal point of our discussions, and we’re hopeful we can figure that out for next year.”

Milwaukee Mile Speedway (on schedule since 1946 under various sanctioning bodies)

Is Milwaukee a lame duck event?  – “We’re not drawing that line in the sand. I spoke to one of the senior officers of the company that promotes it today, even, and we’re both going to do what we can to see if we can continue to have Milwaukee on the schedule. Again, that’s going to take some, I think, sponsorship and it’s going to take we’re going to have to work on the date.

“This year the date is different and their time is different, and the date is different because, as I understand it, when Labor Day, by virtue of the way the calendar works, not our calendar, but “the calendar” when that moved Labor Day about a week later, the fair sort of moved with it, and our promoters believed that (the race) needed to be after the fair, and as you probably know there are lots of other goings on civically in the summer in Milwaukee as well. So we didn’t have a lot of choice as to where to put it, and they’re trying to combine the vintage car racing with IndyCar to make a terrific weekend, and that had something to do with the date. It also has something to do with the time.

“We know that the IndyCar race is a couple hours later than it has been, and we know that if you are traveling from Chicago or Indianapolis, and you’re trying to get home Sunday night, a couple of hours matters. On the other hand, the promoter definitely wanted to have the vintage racing Saturday. That means we could practice Saturday, and we got to put a lot into Sunday, including qualifying and practice, and that’s how it ended up being later. So as always, lots of moving parts. They’re not secrets, they’re not nefarious, and we hope that we can find ways to find a date where it works better for our promoter and primarily our fans.”

Importance of ovals like Fontana and Milwaukee to schedule

“Keeping the ovals on the schedule is really important to us. There are various ways we can consider helping, supporting them as you probably already know … to some extent we have showed a lot of what I will call ‘flexibility’ in sanction fee pricing in part because of that objective. Whether we can bring some sponsorship you know, there are a lot of points on the spectrum. I don’t believe that actually co-promoting when we are in their market selling tickets for them is our strength, so that seems like a bridge too far, but we care a lot about the ovals being part of the Series, along with the streets and the roads, and we’re going to do whatever we can to ensure that balance.”

Ryan: Stressful second title is a 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.