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Podcast: Newgarden on Penske adaptation, hectic schedule

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden paid a visit to Nate Ryan’s NASCAR on NBC Podcast presented by STP, at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Despite the setup, recording in a studio that Ryan jokingly referred to as an “oversized closet,” and with Newgarden holding a hand mic flag for about half an hour, the two enjoyed a lively conversation about a number of topics.

Newgarden, a self-described introvert, has had to adapt to moving to Charlotte (Davidson, N.C.) as part of his team switch to Team Penske and taking on far more roles over the course of the year than just driving.

“I only just moved in January. It’s just tough. If I’m not racing, it’s nice to be at home with recovery time,” Newgarden told Ryan. “(In IndyCar) we have a much more condensed schedule but it’s very intense. A lot of back-to-back-to-back. We’re happy to be at home. When we’re not home, we’re doing partner events or press tours. I never have a great answer, but we’re always doing something!”

Newgarden explained how interdependent all of the Team Penske race programs are, among the NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA and Supercars operations.

“Driving for Roger is a different character. It’s a different sort of experience and one of the most professional people you’ll ever meet. There’s this process, these sayings… but Roger leads by example. That’s how he is and how he runs his businesses and race teams. You see how it works,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of divide (in racing) over 15 years. But racers are interested in racing in general. Whether you’re NASCAR, IndyCar, V8, sports cars, we’re all interested in what’s going on.

“For the IndyCar side, I think it’s helpful. What’s most helpful is that everything is under one house. All these guys can work together to maximize their own programs. I think that’s really the bread and butter. The sports cars will only add to that element. I like being in a new environment. Don’t get comfortable. Becoming uncomfortable, coming to a new city, 100,000 vs 40,000 square feet. It’s a good thing.”

Newgarden said he’d love to try NASCAR but like Simon Pagenaud, who also addressed this this past week in Indianapolis at the PRI Show, said he’d prefer to try on an oval.

As for Danica Patrick returning to the Indianapolis 500 after a seven-year hiatus? Newgarden is all for it.

“I always get excited by that stuff. It’s the Indy 500. I’ll be politically correct and say it’s one of the largest races in the world,” he said. “It used to be fun to see who’s gonna be in the race. Kurt Busch, Alonso, and now Danica Patrick coming back… this is her coming home. It’s been fun to watch her at the NASCAR side, but this is fitting. You have to give her credit. She was very good at the Indianapolis 500. More racers the merrier. I’d love 50-60 try the Indianapolis 500. I think it’ll be great.

“I’d be surprised if she wasn’t in the mix. It will take some re-adapting. That will speak to her adaptation skills. She started out open-wheel cars… so I wonder if this will be like riding a bike. I think it’s impossible to predict. If (she’s driving for) someone like Ganassi, she’ll be in the mix.”

You can hear the full podcast below, or in the following links and platforms Ryan shared.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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