Celebration continues for Josef Newgarden

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MOORESVILLE, North Carolina – The days following Josef Newgarden’s second NTT IndyCar Series championship have been quite busy, and it’s only going to get busier for the 28-year-old Team Penske driver.

Shortly after winning the championship with an eighth-place finish in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Newgarden had a full schedule of media obligations that went well into Sunday night.

Then he was whisked away in a jet to fly to New York where he has been part of an NBC Media Tour to help promote the series and honor the champion.

Thursday night in Indianapolis, Newgarden and Team Penske will be honored for the championship at the INDYCAR Victory Lap Ceremony. On Friday, it’s off to North Carolina and back into his No. 2 Chevrolet-powered Indy car when he becomes the first IndyCar driver since 1999 to run laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Back then, it was on the 1.5-mile oval. Newgarden’s Friday laps, however, will come on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile ROVAL after NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series qualifications conclude.

“It’s all good stuff,” Newgarden said on a national teleconference from New York on Tuesday. “We’re in New York, just having a small media tour, trying to take in the celebration and spread the word that the IndyCar season was a great hit this year. There was a lot of transition, particularly with NBC taking over full time. I thought they kind of knocked it out of the park for their first year as the full-time provider of bringing IndyCar to network TV and trying to showcase our product and give people great access to our sport and to see that consistently on a same-make platform.”

“I’m going to go to Indianapolis on Thursday and get through a small celebration for the championship.”

Don’t expect Newgarden and the boys to celebrate too late because of the tremendous opportunity they will have to expose their high-speed style of racing to a NASCAR audience Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“It’s been a very, very cool opportunity that Shell has provided us,” Newgarden explained. “They really wanted to do something to showcase their involvement with Team Penske and everything that we’ve done together. We had a very, very successful month of May together. As a team we won the Indianapolis 500, and Shell was a big part of that on my car specifically; we finished in the top 5. And that fourth place I think at Indianapolis was a great springboard and a big helper to our championship run.”

“We’re going to go to the ROVAL on Friday, and I’ll get to do some quick laps, demoing in their car, which is going to be very, very cool. It’s just going to be a good showcase for our partnership together with Joey Logano, and I’m quite excited for that. I have not been to that track, so to be able to go there and showcase our partnership is going to be very, very fun.”

Although Newgarden is from NASCAR territory from just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, his racing roots are in open-wheel racing. From his days as a young driver in karting at Mark Dismore’s track in New Castle, Indiana, to competing in the junior formulas of Europe before returning to become Indy Lights champion in 2011, Newgarden has been groomed for IndyCar excellence.

He won his first NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2017 and backed it up this year with another outstanding campaign.

He led the NTT IndyCar Series with four wins, 12 top-fives, 11 races led, and 490 laps led. Those were all series bests.

“It really has been a great thing to be able to finish this championship off the way we wanted to, as a team, with Team Penske,” Newgarden said. “We went into the finale with a goal of winning as a team, however that was going to shake out. The most important thing was bringing the championship to Team Penske.”

“I’m of course very, very happy that it worked out specifically for us on the 2 car, but it was a team effort, as it always is, and I felt like this year has been a great validation for me personally in my career, but also I’m very thrilled for our group that we were able to win the championship just because I felt like our guys have done such a phenomenal job and really put together what was a championship-caliber year. If we weren’t able to achieve that, I think it would have been a tough pill to swallow to not conclude the year with what I thought was everything it took to win a championship.”

By winning a second NTT IndyCar Series championship, Newgarden joins the likes of Bobby Unser, Tony Bettenhausen, Alex Zanardi, Tom Sneva and Gil de Ferran.

“It’s a huge honor to just be a part of the IndyCar Series,” Newgarden said. “There’s a lot of drivers that never get the opportunity to get to this level, and then when you do get to the top level in the sport, being able to stay there and make the most of it is a whole other challenge.”

“But I’ve been really fortunate. It’s well-documented how fortunate I’ve been to be with the right people at the right time, and it started a long time ago in my career with Mark Dismore at his facility at New Castle Motorsports Park, and to go from go-karting there to Europe, back to America here, and now finally putting together a second championship, I think for me it’s just a great stamp on my career.”

“I feel that personally, and I’m really thankful that all the people that have put something into my career, I hope they can get some satisfaction from that, too, that all their efforts were going to something good, and just really pleased that I feel like we’ve put a good stamp on our journey.”

Newgarden, along with his fellow American racing rival Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, have inspired a new group of aspiring, young drivers from the United States to consider IndyCar racing. Ten years ago, many of those drivers would have been trying to get into stock car racing.

NASCAR has seen a surge of top, young drivers join the series including Christopher Bell, who announced he will move up to Cup with Leavine Family Racing in 2020.

With INDYCAR on the upswing, and drivers such as Newgarden and Rossi becoming stars, young talent can see a future in this series that may not have interested them 10 years ago.

Back then, however, Newgarden was focused on success in IndyCar and now he is reaping the rewards of that career choice.

“I think somehow it’s all worked out as beautifully as it needed to,” Newgarden said. “I’m a perfectionist, so knowing what I know now, I think there’s a thousand things I’d have done different. But they’re all very little things. You just wish you had the education in the sport.”

“But it’s impossible, you can’t have the hindsight of eight years into an IndyCar career and then going back to your karting career and taking all the benefit of that is just impossible.”

“What I like about my career is I think the way it has shaped up and the journey I did take, it really prepared me for the cruelties of the sport, the realities of what it takes to really succeed and to not only succeed but to continue to succeed. I think that’s the toughest part about it is it’s one thing to get here, but when you get there, then figuring out how to stay and to continually find success, the reality of what that takes is what’s most difficult, and I think the hardships along the way, that’s what really prepares you for being able to do that throughout your career.”

This year, Team Penske scored nine wins, eight poles, Simon Pagenaud won the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and Newgarden won his second title to give Team Penske a record 16 IndyCar “National Championships.”

“Being in New York here, I always make the comparison that driving for Team Penske, it’s like playing for the Yankees,” Newgarden said. “You’re basically competing with a dynasty here, and they’re the best to have done it and they’re the group that everyone wants to be and the group everyone wants to beat. So, there’s a lot of pressure to perform in that environment.”

“But on the flipside, you also know that you have the history behind you. You have the process, you have the people, you have the management, you have the ownership. You have everything in place to go and succeed and do it better than everyone else, and I think that gives you the confidence to go and be better than everybody else in a lot of ways.”

“I like it. I don’t mind the pressure, but I really enjoy the confidence that the team gives you that you have everything you need.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter @BruceMartin_500

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.