A new car, the field of 33, succession plan: Roger Penske addresses IndyCar’s big issues

Roger Penske IndyCar
Mike Young/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Even at 85, Roger Penske is always on to the next racing project in IndyCar.

Once Sunday’s 106th Indy 500 is complete, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series will shift his focus to the next important issue that faces the sport — but he also is willing to look back when asked.

Since taking ownership, Penske has spent more than $30 million upgrading the “World’s Greatest Race Course.” As he prepared for the first full-capacity Indy 500 since 2019, Penske had to make many difficult decisions.

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One was dropping the Freedom 100 from the Carb Day schedule. The Indy Lights race produced some of the most thrilling finishes in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history.

The last Freedom 100 was held in 2019 when the Hulman-George family still owned IMS. It was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic the past two years and left off the schedule for 2022, which led many race fans to ask, “Why?”

“It’s one word,” Penske told NBC Sports. “Safety. We just can’t have those cars running at the speeds. A lot of people haven’t had the experience on ovals.

“We want to keep the Indy 500 weekend (about the Indy 500), not some other race. It takes away from the history and the iconic impact that it makes for the sport.”

Penske also addressed why IndyCar has no plan for a new car in the near future.

The current Dallara tub and chassis was introduced in 2012 and has undergone various iterations with aerodynamic parts and pieces. Since the introduction of the aeroscreen in 2020, some drivers have lobbied that the design update of a new car is sorely needed to address the extra weight of the safety device.

“We don’t need a new car right now,” Penske said. “We need to do one big job at a time. We’re coming out with a 2.4-engine. Both manufacturers have run them successfully at this point. The hybrid will be the next piece of that. It’s going to be evolutionary for the cars. We’re going to add things to make them safer, potentially faster.

“To me, at the end of the day, we’re talking about the team and we’re talking about the driver, I’m not sure the people in the stands care about what car it is, they want to see their driver and team on the track.

“I’m not in a hurry. We pushed the rules in Indy Lights out a few more years. We need to have cars and lower costs. If you took the 33 cars times two, that’s 67 cars and each car is $400,000 to $500,000, you are talking $25 to $30 million to come up with before you have any spares.

“I don’t see that happening in today’s economy.”

Long-term, IndyCar is preparing for the Hybrid Assist Engine, which was set to take the track in 2023 but was delayed to 2024 because of supply chain issues.

Penske believes IndyCar always must keep pace with the direction of the automotive industry.

“Hybrid technology is the bridging technology to the future,” Penske said. “I don’t think you will see every manufacturer only produce completely electric vehicles for a long time. The products are good. They will always be more expensive. You look at the infrastructure. There are so many things there.

“We have made a commitment on the hybrid side. We were limited to bring it in 2023 because of the supply chain. We are now getting pieces we couldn’t get before.

“We are not taking a year off, because we pushed it out. We are actually working harder to make sure the product is viable.”

This year, there were just enough entries to make it to 33 this year. That meant no “Bump Day” but there was a good reason for that.

The full-time field for most NTT IndyCar Series races has increased to 26-28 cars. Teams that used to field an extra entry for the Indy 500 are fielding extra full-time teams in every IndyCar race.

In a sense, the Indy 500 entry list became a victim of IndyCar’s success, particularly with a team member personnel shortage.

“I think 33 is history, but it’s a good problem to have because it shows you the quality of the existing teams,” Penske said. “We supported Beth Paretta and had an extra car last year. That’s two extra cars that we don’t have this year that came from our own team.

“We’re thrilled with the quality of the field. There is nobody in there that won’t have a good shot at a top finish. You can see the qualifying at the other races prior to Indy have been very, very close.

“It’s a moot point for me. We want to make a better show for the crowd with teams that have experience and bring cars in and new drivers from Indy Lights, we want to have this pipeline and the support series is key to bring in new mechanics and sponsors. We want to connect the two series as much as we can.”

IndyCar continues its neverending search for a third engine manufacturer (OEM) to join Chevrolet and Honda.

“We’ve been in discussion with OEM’s,” Penske said. “We’ve been close, but at the moment, I have nothing to report. We have a few that have been closer than others, and we’re looking at a couple of new ones, too.”

This is also the final year for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix of Belle Isle. The Penske Corp. is also the promoter of that event. Next year, the race return to the streets of downtown Detroit.

“Detroit is important to me because it’s my hometown,” Penske said. “Bud Denker and Michael Montri have taken that whole project, Belle Isle, and IndyCar racing to the top. To have the excitement downtown in Detroit where we used to have a Formula One race and we have the success we used to see at Portland and in Toronto and Nashville, the city council and the mayor were really excited about having it downtown. It will be close to over 200 businesses and running through downtown that will create a tremendous amount of economic benefit.”

NASCAR has been discussing adding street races to the schedule.

Could a NASCAR race one day be part of the Detroit Grand Prix?

“Not that I know of,” Penske said. “It’s not on our books.”

Penske also discussed Formula One’s dramatic U.S. growth, which is largely attributable to the “Drive to Survive” show on Netflix.

IndyCar has been investigating the prospect of a reality-based show, but Penske notes the goal isn’t to mimic F1. He would rather make IndyCar the best series that it can be without trying to be something that it isn’t.

“I think we have two different businesses,” Penske said. “They are running about the world, and we are running in the United States. Ours is a U.S. series. They see the benefit of running in the U.S. They see the benefit of running in the U.S. and have three races in the United States. I think that is great.

“’Drive to Survive’ has been a tremendous asset to them. They are talking to people they have never talked to before. We are looking for different types of opportunities. We haven’t announced anything yet, but we haven’t shut out that opportunity. There are people out there that want to do something with us and develop a product to communicate with the fans.”

Now that IndyCar has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, how does Penske plan on expanding the series?

“What we need to do at IndyCar, and Indianapolis is understand what the base is,” Penske said. “We’ve been unable to calculate the base from January 2020 when we bought the track, series and IMSP. As we end 2022, we will have a much better idea.

“Then we can look at other things to support our race product for the future.”

As the owner of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske has kept a safe distance from the Team Penske operation he continues to own. From time to time, he will wander down to the pit area, but he stays off the top step of the timing stand by intention.

“I just want to be sure there is a Chinese wall, and the competitors realize I have nothing to do with how the race is conducted,” Penske said. “Since we bought the series, I’ve never been in race control. The commitment is building our brand. I know the drivers on my team, and I’m rooting for them.

“Someone had to take this role. Someone had to make the investment. I did it because I love the sport. I knew both sides. I’ve been a track owner before with Michigan and California and Homestead and have also competed in many different types of racing.

“I think I’ve landed in the right spot, personally. Our family and our goal are to take the series and the Speedway to the next level. Tony Hulman and his family did a terrific job as stewards. We need to take that base and try to make it better.”

Penske admits he gets to play full-time team owner when he attends NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series races where he can become more involved.

“That’s right,” he said. “I used to be up in the spotter’s stand, and they won’t let us up there anymore. I love going there.”

Though Penske has an incredibly sharp business mind, he has surrounded himself with outstanding talent. Two new additions came with Penske’s purchase of IMS: Mark Miles and IMS President Doug Boles.

“I’ve known Doug Boles since when he worked for Panther Racing,” Penske said. “A terrific guy. His heart is at the Speedway. He’s there every day. There is no better guy than to be president of the Speedway. To me, Mark Miles came into the Hulman Company and brought a sense of leadership to the company to support the family. They put together a great board. The outcome, we were the benefactors with being able to buy the asset, but I wouldn’t know what to do without them.

“The level of respect for them has grown. I knew they were good. We almost road-tested them because we were on the other side of the street and had to work with them every day. They are high integrity. They are hard workers, too, and very transparent.

“The series, the Speedway, our sponsors are all lucky to have the people we have at the helm. There are others who fall into that category, too.”

Penske realizes he never really will retire, because he loves the challenge that comes from running businesses around the world.

But, when the day comes that Roger Penske is no longer around, who will run the business of the Penske Corp. and Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Greg Penske is a key member of running his father’s business empire and Roger Penske Jr. owns several automotive dealerships. Another son, Jay, has created a booming media empire of his own.

Mark is another son and daughter Kathryn Blair is Penske’s youngest.

“As Greg knows and Roger Jr. and the rest of my family knows, we have professional people that run these businesses,” Penske said. “We have included the family as directors in these businesses. They have been involved from a strategic standpoint. I would expect that is what we would do in the future.

“There isn’t one family member that will take over the enterprise at this point. At that point, it’s a matter of managing those people over time with the knowledge you have. The enterprise is significant, and there should always be Penske people that have the ability to reach into the organization and ask questions.

“That is what I expect our family to do.”

At 85, Penske continues a pace that would exhaust people half his age. He sleeps 3-4 hours a night and discovered early in life the fact he doesn’t require much sleep is a gift because it gives him more time to get things done.

“I’m used to not a lot of sleep, but when I get it, I sleep well,” Penske said. “What I love about my job is every day is different. When you get into that mode is when you are doing the same thing every single day.

“The good news for me is we have such a varied group of companies, customers, and challenges, that is what gets me up every morning. I don’t get up in the morning not knowing I have a lot to do, and then things change when you walk into the office.

“That’s the fun I’m having every day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

Through belief and grief, Josef Newgarden won Indy 500 with life lessons from his family


INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden was taught by his father that he could win the Indy 500, and he learned through his wife that it would be OK to always lose it.

After finally winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the typically unflappable two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion got choked up when discussing the importance of Joey Newgarden, who instilled “internal belief,” and Ashley Newgarden, who “helps make my world go round and sees the heartbreak more than anyone else.”

Monday morning, while Josef Newgarden made the rounds of photo shoots and media obligations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beaming family members lingered among incessant laughter on the Yard of Bricks – savoring the moment and recounting their supportive roles through a journey that took 12 tries (Newgarden tied the record for most Indianapolis 500 starts before his first victory).

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For Joey Newgarden, it was turning a scrawny kid (“when Josef was 11, he was 4 foot 11, 67 pounds”) into the superstar with six-pack abs who proved a worthy main character in the first season of IndyCar’s “100 Days to Indy” docuseries.

For Ashley, there were the anguished and helpless days after many Brickyard disappointments that thrust her into the role of an indefatigable sports psychologist.

“In a lot of ways, it’s terribly difficult for someone like Ashley,” Newgarden told NBC Sports during a reflective interview late Monday morning in an antiseptic glass-paneled office on the fourth floor of the IMS media center. “She carries the burden more than anybody, and people don’t know that and see that. I’m not easy to be around when my heart’s broken.

“And when this place breaks your heart, it’s tough to leave here every year. I’m going to cry thinking about it. It’s really, really hard. And she just … endures it is probably the one way to put it. She has endured the pain. And I think it’s almost a harder pain than the pain I feel because she’s not asking for it, but she’s having to live it.

“And there’s more than just that. You think about the genuinely impossible odds that are so against you to make it to this level, and a lot of it is down to my mom and dad, and the way they literally laid everything on the line to make this happen.

“We don’t come from just some blank check group. I came from a great upbringing. We had great opportunity, but you really have to put everything on the line if you’re going to make this type of career work, and they did that. So to come against all these odds, and for all of us to be there together and win this race.

“It’s full circle.”

Josef Newgarden father wife
Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden poses with parents Joey and Tina and his wife, Ashley, during the Memorial Day photo shoot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Josef Newgarden was ready to quit motorsports after his first full-bodied car race – a Southern Regional Skip Barber event in 2006 at Sebring International Raceway.

After a hugely successful career in go-karting, this was his chance to take a critical next step toward the major leagues, and it was happening on one of the most daunting, physically punishing road courses in the United States.

So on the first lap, Newgarden fully committed to taking the Turn 17 corner, pancaking his car into the wall with embarrassing overexuberance.

“It was basically a typical me move,” he said sheepishly. “I always overcook high-speed stuff. I love it. That’s what my essence is. I love a high-speed track. I will send it bigger than anybody. That was one of the days I oversent it into Turn 17 and overcooked it straight into the wall.”

There was another race the next day, but at dinner that night, Newgarden was having second thoughts.

“I was saying I don’t know if I want to do this,” he said. “I don’t know that I can do this. There definitely was doubt in a lot of ways, and I’m saying this stuff, and my dad made me run the race the next day when I didn’t want to run the race. That’s how much I was taken aback by the whole thing. He made me run the race. And most people would not ever guess that story that my dad is trying to help make me run the race the next day because I don’t want to do it, and because I feel like I can’t do it.”

It’s unfathomable to consider because Newgarden, 32, comes off as one of the most supremely confident drivers in IndyCar through a persona of unflagging optimism. Whether starting 17th (as he did in the 107th Indy 500) or first, he never betrays an iota of doubt that he can win every race.

Which, under the watchful eye of his father, is exactly what he did in the second Skip Barber race at Sebring.

It was “a big turning point” on the championship mettle required for big-time auto racing.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with parents Joey and Tina the morning after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“There was a light bulb that switched for me for sure that I was like you have to dig deep,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those moments of do you want to do this or not? And I think you either change in that moment to fully get on board or not. Because you can’t be in the middle. You won’t run for Roger Penske in the biggest race in the world if you are.

“It’s weird to go back and talk about it because I know it’s become second nature to me. There’s so much pressure, there’s so much obligation of be you, be awesome. Talk to our sponsors. Be their representative. Get in the car, do a great job. The amount of commitment that people put on you. You just can’t crack.

“It must have been in there, and Joey just brought it out of me.”

Josef Newgarden describes his dad as “the ultimate believer” who was always there as his son barnstormed around the Midwest on dozens of go-kart trips from their home outside Nashville, Tennessee.

“He’s just a very distinct human being,” Josef said of Joey. “But he has an amazing talent for optimism, and that can’t be understated how he’s given that to me. I can be a very realistic and pragmatic person.

“Those don’t always line up, having extreme optimism and trying to be realistic about something and see all scenarios. I think I’m able to be both now. I try to see things truly for what they are, and I don’t overreach. But I also have ultimate belief that anything can happen and anything is possible. My dad embodied that from the very beginning.”

Though Joey refers to it as “putting in the work,” Josef Newgarden said there were immense sacrifices made by him and his mother, Tina, so their son could pursue the dream of becoming a professional race car driver with a single-minded focus.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with fans in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Jenna Watson/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“It was, ‘We don’t have enough money? We’ll get the money,’ ” he said. “We will figure it out. And I didn’t have to carry any of that burden when I was young. If we go into debt, who cares? We’ll figure it out. Are we out of opportunities? Doesn’t matter. We’ll figure something out and keep going.”

His father recalls it all as being my design of trying to mold a young teenager “who never had belief in himself” while competing in baseball, basketball and go-karts against bigger competition.

Joey Newgarden, who grew up sweeping floors for 75 cents an hour in Miami while working for his father in the business of photography chemicals, set to establish that the simple principles of hard work and a positive attitude can take someone to whatever station in life they desire.

“Maybe I was just trying to trick him,” Joey Newgarden, wearing an Indy 500 champion’s hat and dark sunglasses, told a few reporters Monday morning at IMS. “I was scrawny like that when I was a kid, too, and I didn’t really have a male role model doing that with me, so I had to try to come up with a plan. We’ve got two daughters and one son, and he was the youngest. And it was, ‘How are we going to do it and convince him that he can be No. 1?’ It’s tough competition out there.”

Though there was a physical aspect (Newgarden became a fitness fanatic in his later teens), much of dad’s grooming was on the attitude of his son, who has retained the competitive fire and grace as a world-class driver but shed being a poor loser.

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
Josef Newgarden with his parents, the winning No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and the Borg-Warner Trophy (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“He was the biggest baby about racing cars,” Joey recalled with a laugh. “He wanted to win every race and lead every lap literally from the very beginning. And when he’d get out of the car, he was Tony Stewart Jr. He wanted to win every single time.

“I always told him you’ve got to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. Because if you don’t know how to lose, you don’t know what winning really means.”

Josef Newgarden said the crash in Sebring went a long way toward establishing his mental toughness.

“You either are hardened by that, and you’re steel,” he said. “Or you’re weak, and you’re not going to make it at this level. It’s just what it takes.

“From that point on, it was never again am I going to lack that type of belief. But Joey is central to the belief system. He should have full credit for that. It sounds simple, but not everybody can truly put their all into something and make it happen at all costs. He gave that to me.”

If his parents provided the immutable faith in pursuing a goal that seemed impossible, his wife of four years (and romantic partner of nearly a decade) gave him the gift of letting go of it.

Ashley Newgarden annually watched her husband agonizingly wrestle with the toll of coming up short in the Indy 500 (which Team Penske now has won a record 19 times).

“Every year, you see someone else get that, and you want it so desperately for yourself and you can picture it for yourself, too,” she said. “So with Josef, the heartbreak just comes from just the thought of, ‘Maybe I’ll never get this opportunity.’ And that’s the worst thing. Because you only get one chance a year, and you only have a certain amount of years you can do this and be competitive at it.

“And he knows that it’s now or never. Every year we left, it was just more hard and more hard and sadder and sadder and sadder.”

There was little she could do to console him, too.

“It’s the toughest part because she wants nothing more than to help, and she can’t help me,” Josef said. “That’s why I say she’s had to endure the pain because in some relationships that person is able to help the individual that needs it. And that doesn’t work for me. So she can’t help.”

Ashley Newgarden watches the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Said Ashley: “There’s nothing you can say. Just give him your support. You can say, ‘That one hurt, it’s yours next year.’ But he’s such a realist, and he doesn’t need the coaching like that from me. You just have to be supportive, and my biggest focus was always how do we get him in a mentally stronger place before the next race and not let this bleed over, (and) he goes into the next race angry.

“It was always the focus of how do we somehow let this go and just put it on the back burner and kind of forget about it. This race is done. After the month, just forget about it until next year. Go to Detroit and have a good season.”

Eventually, Ashley helped Josef with landing in a place where he could divorce himself from some of the pain in the Indy misses. After his second IndyCar championship, Josef struck a new tone publicly about refusing to let the Brickyard define him.

“I think you have to get to that point, because if not, this will just eat you alive,” Ashley said. “And you’ll just not feel you’ve accomplished enough, even though it’s harder to win a championship. This is a very hard race to win, of course. But it’s harder to put together seasons and to be an IndyCar Series champion, but yet this race is more elusive, and you want this more almost.

“I think recently over the last couple of years, really the last year, he started to focus on ‘I’ve done my job. I’ve done everything that I can. I’ve given them two championships.’ I think he started to focus more on that, and he was going to do everything that he could, and it’s going to be enough, and if he doesn’t win the 500, that does not take away from his career. Because I think people think it does. And I think he just kind of let go of it.”

Newgarden described the new outlook as conceding he never might win the Brickyard despite the omnipresent belief that he could.

(Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

“I kind of grieved it in a way,” he said. “It’s a weird way to put it, but I’m going to grieve the Indy 500 and it just doesn’t matter if I don’t ever win it. I truly do not subscribe to this thesis that you have to win this race to have a complete career. Of course, I would love to win the race, and it is a huge achievement. And it is the most difficult race and the most accomplishing race to win.

“But it shouldn’t define your time in the sport if you’re given that time. So I grieved the possibility of it and said if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m not going to linger on it if it doesn’t work out.”

Ashley, who studied psychology in college, provides an emotionally intelligent yin to her husband’s coolly detached yang.

“She’s a very smart woman and more of an empath than I am, which is a little tough because she can be very emotional, and I’m not emotional at all half the time,” Josef said. “But she’s very intuitive with that type of mentality and trying to understand how to survive things and construct things in your brain or how to reason with things. So she’s definitely been most helpful for me to find balance in life.

“Because without her I would probably be a much darker, more miserable person. I would cut everything off and have no balance in my life without her. She’s really the only one that’s figured out how to give that to me.”

Serving as an unofficial nutritionist for her husband’s elite athlete lifestyle, Ashley has tried to find other ways to “make sure everything in his life is easy. Home, food, everything else is taken care of, and I don’t think it comes from a place of him needing that. But that’s how I show him love in those moments and am supportive.”

On the Sunday morning of the Indy 500, Ashley and Josef Newgarden usually awake to a stress level that never subsides.

It wasn’t there this year.

“It was so weird,” she said. “I’ll be honest, starting 17th, I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if we’re going to get up there’. But yesterday morning, we were so easy. And I don’t know if it was because I just felt so confident within. I think it was just a different change of mind for him and I. It was like if it doesn’t happen today, it’s OK. I think you have to get there mentally because if not, this will emotionally kill you.”

Josef and Ashley Newgarden shared their winning Indy 500 moment with their 13-month-old son, Kota (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images).

Joey Newgarden also has noticed an off-track calmness surrounding his family.

When Ashley gave birth to their first child, a son named Kota, in April 2022, Josef Newgarden joined his siblings in each having children within a 20-month span after the trio had gotten married within three years of each other.

His two sisters (the oldest works in pharmaceutical sales at a California company; the other is a registered nurse at a cancer research facility in Seattle) “are doing really well for themselves” to the delight of their parents.

“It’s storybook, the whole thing,” Joey said. “It almost scares me at this point. When things go this well, you’re always waiting for something to go wrong.

He’s got a wonderful wife that he’s been with for 10 years, married for three or four. He’s got a great relationship. What is that movie with Jimmy Cagney? Top of the world, ma.”

And his family says Josef Newgarden is not stopping there.

“I’ve never met someone that just wants to break all the records,” Ashley said. “I know everyone says that, but this dude, he knows the stats. He watches them. It’s never enough.”

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
(Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)