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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Josef Newgarden

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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2016. Next up on the heels of a career year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently signed for Team Penske for 2017.

Josef Newgarden, No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 4th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 4 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 313 Laps Led, 9.4 Avg. Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

I’d compare Josef Newgarden to the stock market at the moment. “Why do you make that comparison, TDZ?” you ask. Because his stock is the highest it’s ever been in the paddock and now everyone is buying, but his 2016 season was so volatile from a results standpoint that it was the IndyCar equivalent of going up 300 points on the New York Stock Exchange one day, then going down another 200 the next one.

Newgarden had four podium finishes in 2016 and also, four finishes of 21st or worse in a 22-car field. So balance those out and how he got to a career-best fourth in points lies in the remaining eight races this year, and those saw seven top-10 finishes.

That he did so without a regular full-time teammate – it rotated between team owner Ed Carpenter, rookie Spencer Pigot or testing fill-in and ECR third driver JR Hildebrand – spoke to how well Newgarden performed this season. Newgarden’s a humble soul who keeps his cards close to the vest, jokes he “just wants a seat” when he probably figures he is the hottest commodity in the series, and then extends thanks to Hildebrand for being as part of the effort as he was this year.

But Newgarden’s year was one that firmly delivered on the promise that those of us who’ve followed him since the start knew he was capable of. This is the driver who packs the rare combination of speed, humility, personality, great racecraft and, as we saw this year, determination.

That Texas crash with good friend and longtime competitor Conor Daly probably would have knocked most people out of action. But Newgarden was back in a car, 10 days later, collarbone and hand injury and all, at Road America, fighting his way to eighth place after a great battle with Juan Pablo Montoya. A couple weeks later, he delivered one of the greatest ass-kickings in IndyCar history in Iowa – leading 282 of 300 laps almost seemed like he’d missed out on a few.

And three months later, Newgarden has signed to replace Montoya at Team Penske.

All the while this year, he was consistent in the races where he didn’t have a cartoon anvil chasing him around. He’s proved that after five years, he’s ready for his jump up to a bigger team in 2017, with Team Penske. He helped make Ed Carpenter Racing better just as Carpenter made him better, but now he’s primed for that final step from top-five points finisher to championship contender.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.