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 

 

Valtteri Bottas on Silverstone pole; Nico Hulkenberg a surprising third

F1 Bottas Hamilton Silverstone
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Valtteri Bottas nipped Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone qualifying Saturday to maintain the team’s hammerlock on F1 results this season while Nico Hulkenberg was a surprise in third.

Hulkenberg is filling in for Sergio Perez for the second consecutive race while the Racing Point driver recovers from coronavirus.

It’s the best F1 start since 2016 for Hulkenberg, who was left without a full-time ride after the 2019 season. He finished 20th at Silverstone last week when an engine problem on the grid prevented him ftaking the green.

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“The last seven to eight days have been crazy,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying. “This weekend I felt much better prepared. Q3 was just head down, full beans, and give it whatever I had.

“I’m a bit surprised to be standing here, but there’s a big smile on my face.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified fourth and will be among the field trying to derail the Mercedes duo that has won the first four races of an F1 season delayed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Feels good,” Bottas said after nipping Hamilton by a few hundredths of a second on his final lap for his 13th career pole position. ” I just love qualifying especially, when it goes well. Proud to drive this car. The race pace is there, so our first job is to get a good start off the line tomorrow and go from there.”

The impressive lap came two days after Bottas, who won the season opener in Austria, announced a one-year contract extension with the team.

Mercedes also is set to begin negotiating a new deal with Hamilton, who has won the past three races in F1 but was disappointed Saturday.

“Valtteri did a great job, but for me, it wasn’t a perfect last lap,” he said. “I don’t think many teams will be doing a one-stop race tomorrow so let’s wait and see how things turn out.”