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.”