Though it is still early in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Josef Newgarden has already established himself as one of the championship favorites.
Kicking off the season with a win on the streets of St. Petersburg and finishing second in last weekend’s inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas, Newgarden sits at the top of the series point standings heading into next weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park (April 7 at 4:00 PM ET on NBCSN).
“It’s been a pretty smooth start overall this year,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “St. Pete was a big difference. I’ve never been able to have a strong weekend there for one reason or another ever since I’ve started in IndyCar. It’s nice to go there and finally figure that weekend out. I think that always sets a good tone for the rest of the year.”
With that tone set, Newgarden and his Team Penske crew will look to retain and possibly even expand his points lead with a great run at Barber, a track where Newgarden has won three of the last four races.
“[Barber] is definitely a highlight of the schedule for me,” Newgarden said. “I like everywhere we go, but Barber has always been for sure a highlight. A lot of people like going there. It’s a beautiful facility.”
“I don’t know why but I’ve always had a good fortune around that place. Races have always seemed to pan out for us. These IndyCar races are so tricky with the way yellows fall or the way the strategy plays out, or what just seems to happen when dominoes fall into place through the race. It’s just always seemed to work out pretty decently at that track.”
But even with his great start to the season and excellent chance to make it three straight victories at Barber next weekend, Newgarden isn’t taking it easy. With the majority of the schedule still ahead of him and a starting grid stacked with talent from top to bottom, the 28-year-old Tennessean knows that a second championship trophy won’t just fall into his lap.
He captured three victories last season, but despite entering the finale at Sonoma with a mathematical chance to win the title, his lack of consistent podiums diminished any realistic chance he had. With 2019 still young, he has little room for error if he wants to be a title contender come Laguna Seca in September.
“We’ve had a good start which is always positive, but it can change so rapidly, you can’t ever get too confident. You always just have to be prepared for what changes,” Newgarden said. “You have to be on your toes all the way through the season. There’s just no point where you can really take a break or breath. You just gotta be on top of it.”