INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

IndyCar champion Newgarden stunned by wild offseason developments

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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 Sports.com 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 

 

Charlie Kimball joins A.J. Foyt Racing; Tony Kanaan expected back

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A.J. Foyt has hired Charlie Kimball to drive its No. 4 Chevrolet in the 2020 NTT IndyCar season.

Kimball will return to a full-time schedule after seven races last season with Carlin Racing. This will mark his 10th consecutive season of driving in IndyCar. In 141 starts, he has one victory (in 2013 at Mid-Ohio).

“I would not have survived — and I’m not sure my marriage would have survived — another year on a partial schedule,” Kimball said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “Because it was really tough on me last year watching in races when I wasn’t in the car. The consistency allows me to stay in the rhythm.”

A.J. Foyt Racing fielded cars last year for Matheus Leist in the No. 4 and Tony Kanaan in the No. 14. Team president Larry Foyt told reporters that the No. 14 car’s 2020 schedule was “a work in progress and hopefully have some news on that in the next few weeks.”

Asked if Kanaan, who has driven for Foyt since 2018, still will be with the team, Foyt said, “I’m sure he will. We’ve been working together and getting everything buttoned up.”

Here’s the full release from A.J. Foyt Racing:

Veteran IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball joins AJ Foyt Racing as the full-time driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet with backing from his long-time sponsor Novo Nordisk. The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season marks Kimball’s 10th consecutive season in IndyCar and his 12th season of partnership with the global healthcare company.

Kimball, who ran a partial season of seven races in 2019, returns as a full-time driver in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series this year. The No. 4 car will carry a Novo Nordisk branded livery in the following races: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, GMR Grand Prix (Indianapolis), Texas Indy 600 (Ft. Worth), Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway (Madison, Ill.) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Novo Nordisk will be an associate marketing partner in the remaining 11 races.

“I’m excited and honored to join AJ Foyt Racing and be a part of a team that has such deep roots in history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar,” said Kimball, who lives in Indianapolis. “Continuing the partnership with Novo Nordisk is also special since they have been an integral part of my career since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I’m more motivated than ever to work with the team to succeed at every IndyCar race in 2020. Thank you to AJ Foyt Racing, Novo Nordisk and our other partners for this opportunity.”

Team President Larry Foyt expects the partnership with Novo Nordisk and the addition of Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar Series race winner at Mid-Ohio (2013) and a pole winner at Texas Motor Speedway (2017), to invigorate his No. 4 Texas-based team this season.

“Charlie brings a great deal of experience and skill to the team,” Foyt said. “He is motivated to show what he can do behind the wheel, and his recent experience of helping develop cars will be beneficial as we work to get the 4 car moving up the grid. Novo Nordisk has been a long-time supporter of Charlie and IndyCar. We want to welcome them to AJ Foyt Racing and we look forward to joining them in their effort to increase the awareness of diabetes.”

Kimball has posted six podium (top-3) finishes, and an additional eight top-5s. He has finished in the top-10 (6th through 10th) 41 times and has led 163 laps in 141 races.

“We are proud to continue our long-term partnership with Charlie Kimball and look forward to an exciting 2020 IndyCar season with the legendary AJ Foyt Racing,” said Brian Hilberdink, Senior Vice President, Commercial Diabetes at Novo Nordisk. “For more than a decade, we’ve utilized our involvement in IndyCar to share Charlie’s inspiring journey living with diabetes through the Race with Insulin initiative. Charlie is one of the most active ambassadors in the diabetes community and his passion and commitment to making a difference in the lives of those who are living with diabetes is unwavering. We look forward to continuing this tradition with AJ Foyt Racing, Charlie and the diabetes community throughout the IndyCar season.”

Foyt expects to make further announcements regarding new primary sponsors for the team in the near future.