IndyCar champion Newgarden stunned by wild offseason developments

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Josef Newgarden figured the offseason following his second NTT IndyCar Series championship would go much like the weeks that followed his first title in 2017. He would make some media appearances, attend some awards banquets, meet with the sponsors and then ease into another IndyCar offseason.

What has happened this year, however, has been stunning to say the least.

First came the news on October 30 that popular driver and IndyCar Series race winner James Hinchcliffe would not be a driver for Arrow McLaren Racing SP, although he has one year left on his contract.

Then came what can be called the biggest news in racing in the last 50 years on November 4. That is when Newgarden’s team owner and famed business and industry leader Roger Penske had purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions from Hulman & Company. That will end 74 years of ownership by the Hulman George Family when the sale is completed in January.

On November 22 came the announcement that four-time Champ Car Series champion and 37-time race winner Sebastien Bourdais would not be part of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan in the No. 18 entry next season. A major part of Coyne’s funding for 2020 had fallen through and the team has yet to sign a contract to return to Honda or join Chevrolet in 2020.

Newgarden admits he doesn’t know what to expect next.

“It’s been a crazy offseason,” Newgarden told NBC in an exclusive interview. “It’s been one thing after the other. It seems like every week there is some seriously impactful news that has been hitting the table. It’s been a whirlwind.

“It makes me think about my position in the sport and how fortunate I have been to not only have an opportunity, but a continued opportunity in IndyCar. You can’t take it for granted. It’s like in any other sport, you don’t know how long your runway is going to be in the sport itself or with the team in that sport. It’s a changing landscape and sometimes you forget that.

“I’m excited to go racing again but this offseason has not been short of shocking news. I don’t know what else is going to happen before the end of the year, but it is setting up for quite the anticipation before St. Pete.”

Of all the news that has happened during the IndyCar offseason, the most impactful is Penske’s purchase of IMS, the Indy 500 and INDYCAR. The 82-year-old shows no signs of slowing down and with his deep respect for the Indy 500 and IMS, the future is in great hands under his leadership.

But how will Penske’s new responsibilities impact Team Penske, which features Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden?

“With Roger’s announcement, it’s a very welcome change for everyone involved,” Newgarden said. “We are excited what the future is going to bring.

“Roger has always done a great job of delegating. On the racing side, we spend the majority of our time with Tim Cindric overlooking the racing operation. I think Roger’s time will shift in the future and we will see him less on the racing side and more on the ownership side.

“I think that’s a good thing. The health and the vitality of the series is just as important as the racing team health. It stands to be a benefit for all of us. I’m excited about it.

“If there was one person in the universe that you could pick to take over the reins of IMS and the IndyCar Series, there is no better person that Roger Penske.”

Newgarden believes Penske is a great listener and puts a team in place to get things accomplished with sincere thought. He is also very focused on fans and customer relations not only for both the short term and long term.

Newgarden clinched the championship in the season-finale on September 22 in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Now that it’s December, Newgarden is ready to get back to work.

“Very much so,” Newgarden admitted. “That’s always the case with IndyCar. When you end the season, it’s nice to get a break. But as soon as you get two months in, you are ready to go racing again. I’ve already started to put a plan in place for how next year should look, what we can do better, areas that are strong and areas that need work.

“It’s a never-ending battle. When you get to the top of the group, it’s very difficult to stay there. Things are always changing in motorsports. Trying to retain your crown is getting more and more difficult every time.

“The work has already begun.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 


Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.