Josef Newgarden has quickly gotten up to speed on ‘The Penske Way’

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INDIANAPOLIS – When a young driver makes a big jump to one of IndyCar’s most successful teams, it’s like putting on a new glove.

The driver has to fit the glove, has to make it work, his fingers have to work well with the other fingers in the glove, maybe cinch it tighter one last time and then he’s ready to go.

And then there’s guys like Josef Newgarden. The young Tennessee native has fit into the glove known as Team Penske and made the transition in one of the quickest times ever in the organization’s history.

After just five races, Newgarden has already won a race for his new team, is third in the point standings – just two spots behind teammate, series leader and defending 2016 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud (one now after Scott Dixon has unofficially taken the points lead with qualifying points) – and has made a very seamless transition to the most successful organization in IndyCar racing.

Now, Newgarden is on the eve of his first Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske, the most successful organization in the annals of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing with 16 triumphs in the first 100 running’s of the 500.

In a sense, Newgarden and his teammates are like the three – scratch that, make it five – Musketeers.

Newgarden, Pagenaud, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya (just for this race) have an understanding from team chairman Roger Penske that is, in effect, one for all and all for one.

Namely, each Penske driver should do everything he can to win, but if he can’t, then help out his teammates to see if one of them can win.

It’s the Penske Way.

“It’s very genuine,” Newgarden said of the tenor within the team, where each of the five are not just competitors, but they’re also friends on and off the racetrack.

“We all get along really well, which is odd, but it’s the ‘Penske Way,’” Newgarden said. “The Penske way is to be a team and work well together and help each other be better and we get that.

“We’re competitive, we want to beat each other, I want to beat all these guys and they want to beat me, but we work well together. It just makes you better as a driver and makes all of us better as a team.

“And at the end of the day, if we’re all the best, then we just have to fight each other, which is a good thing. The race is 500 miles, 200 laps, you have to go a long way. Anything can happen in this race. I feel good about that.”

Newgarden is like a Lotto winner. He went from a very good situation with Ed Carpenter Racing to becoming part of the winningest team in Indy 500 and IndyCar racing.

“They’re such a diverse group,” he said. “We’ve got drivers from all over that have done everything. You have a lot of information to go around, and then the history of the group is something you can’t deny. They’ve won 16 Indy 500s, they’ve got a lot of data on how to win this race.”

Newgarden feels he has a good chance to win his first 500 title – and add it to the lengthy Team Penske list of credits that also include 16 previous Indy 500 victories.

“It’d be huge,” Newgarden said. “Regardless of which team you’re with, it’s a big deal to win this race. Winning for Roger and Team Penske would be a big deal for me because of their success here. It’s special to be part of the group, but any time you’re running the Indy 500, it’s a big deal if you win the race.”

But don’t think Newgarden will have a different mindset in Sunday’s race just because his firesuit says Penske on it.

“I don’t think there’s a different mindset,” he said. “You approach the race the same way. I’m approaching it like I did last year (when he was with Ed Carpenter Racing).

“It’s still the same battle, you’re trying to make it to the end, trying to put yourself in position, so it’s really the same process. (Being with Team Penske is) a big group, they want to do well, Roger expects us to do well, but as far as the way you approach the race, it’s all the same.”

Newgarden approaches the 500 with a great deal of confidence. He knows he has a fast car that received some last-minute tweaks during Friday’s Carb Day. He’ll start 22nd.

Now, the stage is set for Sunday, and Newgarden minces no words of his agenda:

“My thoughts for the race are let’s get through Turn 1, hopefully our car is good, hopefully we won’t get an incident, let’s make it to the end and let’s try and win.”

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”