Josef Newgarden goes from fast cars to fastballs in St. Louis

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Josef Newgarden has led the NTT IndyCar Series standings for all but one race this season by having the ability to drive a fast car and win races.

Thursday night at Busch Stadium, Newgarden proved he has a pretty good fastball, too.

The Team Penske driver and 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion threw out the first pitch before the St. Louis Cardinals game against the Colorado Rockies. Without warming up, Newgarden threw a perfect pitch, right down the middle of the plate.

“It was a strike, too,” Newgarden said as he went down the tunnel and saw his Team Penske crew sitting in the row above the tunnel. “That was pretty good.

“For literally zero practice, that was a great pitch. You just show up and throw it. It’s not hard throwing the ball, but when you throw out a first pitch, it becomes difficult because everybody is expecting you to get it across the plate.

“I’m saving my ‘heater’ for Friday in qualifications.”

Friday afternoon, he was back in his own element in the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet for Team Penske at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Once again, he had a fast car, leading the first practice session before qualifications began later Friday afternoon.

He followed that up by winning the eighth pole of his career Friday evening. He qualified the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet to the pole position with a two-lap average of 188.508 miles per hour around the 1.25-mile short oval.

“The pole helps with the championship,” Newgarden said. “Every practice. Every qualifying session. Every race. You just keep marching on until this thing finishes off. Every weekend you come in invigorated that you can put together a winning car and come in and win the race. I think that is why we show up. We are going to try and do that tomorrow night.”

As for Newgarden’s baseball prowess, Thursday night’s first pitch was the second time he has had that honor for a Major League Baseball game. Several years ago, he threw out the first pitch before a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park.

“Thanks to the Cardinals for letting us come out and do this, it’s such a beautiful stadium and historic team,” Newgarden said. “It’s great that they allow us to come here and promote our race. This team has a rich history and you feel it when you walk in these gates.

“I was a decent ballplayer, but I haven’t played since I was 15. It’s been a while. Once I got into racing, that took over fully. I still love baseball. The games are better live because you can really experience it. It’s impressive to see what these guys are all about and see the skillset of these players.

“St. Louis has done a great job promoting this race and we all look forward to it every year.”

When Newgarden played baseball in Hendersonville, Tennessee, he played catcher, third base and centerfield. As a kid, he remembers the home run battle between Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I have a lot of respect for the Cardinals; they have a great organization,” Newgarden said. “It’s great to be here with the track and promoting IndyCar in St. Louis. The relationship with the Cardinals has been really positive.

“There are a lot of baseball fans that are also racing fans. They can go to the game on Thursday night, then come out and watch us race Friday and Saturday night.”

With his “first pitch” out of the way, Newgarden quickly shifted his focus to Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500. He has a 35-point lead over Alexander Rossi with three races remaining.

“It’s a small increase, but it’s still really tight,” Newgarden told NBC “Unless you have a 100-point lead going into Laguna Seca, it’s going to be tight. We have a long way to go. We had a good car here and won in 2017 and last year, we didn’t have our best weekend.

“We’ve gone over this car very well and expect to have a good weekend this year.”

Team Penske has won both races since IndyCar’s return to the 1.25-mile, egg-shaped oval in 2017. Newgarden won in 2017 and teammate Will Power drove to victory in 2018.

Although Newgarden doubled his points lead from 16 points to 35 last Sunday at Pocono because Alexander Rossi was involved in the first-lap pileup in Turn 2, the top four drivers are separated by 52 points. Another Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, is 40 back and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is 52 points out.

“It’s a big battle,” Newgarden said. “The top four, you aren’t looking at one or the other, there are three of them there at our pretty close to me. It’s pretty early to start letting off, now.”

Plus, the season’s final race is at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, which hasn’t hosted an IndyCar race since Champ Car in 2004.

“That’s the biggest unknown,” Newgarden said. “I don’t think we have a strong idea how that is going to go, yet. I don’t think we have an idea what Laguna is going to bring.

“It’s a double-Wild Card. It’s double-points and it’s a track where we haven’t raced at.”

Newgarden believes he can only control his own destiny and that is how he is approaching this weekend and the remaining races on the schedule.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media

As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage