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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Josef Newgarden

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MotorSportsTalk kicks off its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the champion, Josef Newgarden. In his first year at Team Penske, Newgarden ascended to the top of the sport.

Josef Newgarden, No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 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
  • 2017: Champion, 4 Wins, 1 Pole, 9 Podiums, 10 Top-5, 13 Top-10, 390 Laps Led, 7.9 Avg. Start, 6.1 Avg. Finish

The Josef Newgarden seed was planted at Team Penske this season, and in year one, it already grew into a champion.

Quite how well Newgarden meshed in his new environment came as a mild surprise, especially given how troublesome Simon Pagenaud’s first year at Penske was in an entirely new entry as a fourth car. But Newgarden was provided elements to succeed from the off, as with the established No. 2 team and engineer Brian Campe came a crew that had nearly won the title two years previous anyway with Juan Pablo Montoya driving. And for further measure, Newgarden had the benefit of Tim Cindric moving over to become his race strategist. It seemed a perfect set of circumstances at his disposal and it was fully up to the 26-year-old out of Hendersonville, Tenn., who’d moved from Indianapolis to Charlotte, to live up to them.

Signs this new meshing would work occurred almost immediately. Newgarden stood on the podium his second race with the team at Long Beach, then banked a win – albeit aided by teammate Will Power’s late puncture – at Barber. But Newgarden put himself in that spot by way of his forceful but fair move on Scott Dixon earlier in the final stint.

Such was the measure of his title-winning season, where Newgarden was clearly unafraid by the magnitude of the moment and opportunity afforded to him, and grasped it with both hands – particularly after hitting adversity. After a roughish patch in May, with multiple pit-road speeding penalties in the Indianapolis Grand Prix and then getting caught up in an accident at the Indianapolis 500, Newgarden rebounded with fourth and second at Detroit – previously one of his worst tracks.

After an unforced error in Texas, he recovered again at Road America – fresh with a “low downforce” haircut. Sure, Dixon snookered him on a restart there which cost him the win, but Newgarden was on the wrong tire, and he’d lost the lead to a driver many consider the best of this generation. Newgarden again somewhat lucked into a win in Toronto thanks to Cindric’s call to pit – and with Dixon and Power colliding on the first lap, and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud caught out by Tony Kanaan’s yellow timing, he truly entered the title frame.

But it was at Mid-Ohio and Gateway where he planted his title stake in the ground. His own snookering of Power at Mid-Ohio was crafty, and his take-no-prisoners dive on Pagenaud at Gateway was gutsy to the max, and will stand in history as the pass of the year that netted him his title. He built enough of a lead there to withstand a second unforced error leaving the pits in Watkins Glen, then got off the mat again in Sonoma with an incredible all-around weekend. His practice and qualifying pace there was almost more important than his race drive itself; it positioned him to win the title even without winning the race. Not that he didn’t try for it; Cindric calmed him down after his passing attempt on Pagenaud, but second place behind his teammate was enough for the title in his 100th career start.

There was precious little to criticize about his season. Sure, Power and Castroneves were outright faster in qualifying and the month of May for him was something to forget. There were the obvious mistakes at Texas and Watkins Glen, but neither doomed his title hopes.

WATCH: Newgarden championship recap on NBCSN

As it was, he checked nearly all the boxes afforded to him in one of the more remarkable first years at Team Penske in ages. He led the field on street course points, previously his weakest circuits, was second on road courses and seventh on ovals – the latter number hindered by that weak score in Indianapolis. The 390 laps led this year were spread over 12 races, including the last 10 in a row; last year’s 313 laps led included 282 at Iowa and just 31 elsewhere in three races.

A worthy champion who excelled at almost every phase this season, Newgarden toppled his competition after a six-year climb to the top, en route to a fully deserved first title.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.