Josef Newgarden sets boundaries for home race after inaugural Nashville IndyCar stress

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Josef Newgarden naturally was in the spotlight Thursday night, emceeing his charity ping pong tournament on the eve of the Music City Grand Prix.

Bouncing between interviews with national and local media, cuddling puppies and deftly flicking a paddle for the better part of two hours, Newgarden (who lives full time in Nashville with his wife, Ashley, and newborn son, Kota) was the host with the most in his hometown.

The fourth annual Celebrity Ping Pong Challenge (held for the second consecutive year in Nashville) raised more than $65,000 for charities Serious Fun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks (hence the puppies) and drew more than a dozen IndyCar drivers to Pins Mechanical in downtown Nashville.

It seemed the opening salvo to a weekend welcoming party for the return of NTT IndyCar Series to his Tennessee stomping grounds.

But it actually was Newgarden dropping the curtain on his appearance schedule for the weekend.

For the next three days, the two-time series champion said he would be focused entirely on the track.

“One hundred percent; I shut everything else down,” Newgarden said Thursday. “This event was a priority. I really wanted to raise some money for these great organizations, but other than that, I just want to run the race. So whatever else we don’t have to do, let’s not do. I tried to just give myself a little better opportunity.”

It’s a lesson learned from last season while running himself ragged during IndyCar’s first visit to Nashville. For four days, Newgarden embraced the role of primary ambassador for the inaugural Music City Grand Prix. In between fulfilling every appearance and interview request, he also was followed by a documentary crew that produced a 22-minute episode of “Off the Grid” about the star-crossed weekend (video above).

Newgarden crashed his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet in Turn 11 during qualifying and finished 10th after starting 12th.

His viewing of the documentary later was revelatory.

“I thought it was funny; you could sense the intensity on me on that weekend, a lot of the frustration,” Newgarden told NBC Sports during a preseason interview. “Nashville was a lot to take in, and I was surprised how much I extended myself out. I really thought I was going to be better at trying to prioritize the racing side of the weekend. I knew how important that was going to be and how much I was going to be pulled in every which direction. I think that got the better of me. … My focus was just pulled away from the track side too much. And when I was at the track and seeing the footage, you were seeing a lot of frustration from me. Being shelled in quite a bit.

“I wanted to hide more than anything that weekend. It was really hard to be in everybody’s eye, but that’s part of racing. You have to thrive in those moments. I think it was a teaching moment for me. I learned how I can cope with that and where I can set boundaries.”

There have been no boundaries on improving at Nashville, which Newgarden said was one his weakest tracks in 2021.

His team brought a radically new setup that showed promise with the fifth-fastest speed in practice Friday.

“We came with something that’s productive,” he said. “We need to work on it. I have a lot of faith that with this group here we can figure it out, have a good weekend, not let this be a negative in the last four (races of the season). I think we can have a great weekend here as a whole team.”

Newgarden is 32 points behind teammate Will Power with four races remaining after posting a fifth July 30 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He had been cleared to race only two days earlier after being hospitalized for a fall at Iowa Speedway, where he crashed from the lead while trying to complete a weekend sweep.

“I felt really good; I felt pretty normal,” Newgarden said. “I would probably say I wasn’t 100%, but I felt good. I felt normal in a lot of respects, but I’ve been trying to get myself even better. A top five was really strong for us. We needed to be in the race. I was happy to be there. I think we had more potential than fifth, but we have four races to go still. Plenty of time to make enough happen.”

Starting with what he hopes is a clean – and quiet – home weekend.

“I try not to make it more pressure-filled than any other race,” Newgarden said. “Every event we go to is a lot of pressure. We want to perform. Doesn’t matter what race it is. Clearly this is more special being from Nashville and to have this event here.

“We want people to come to Nashville and think of this as an event, a Super Bowl type event. So there’s a lot of pressure for it. I make it like any other race, any other day. Focus on my job. I think if you do that, you give yourself a better opportunity to just run the race you’d normally run and potentially win it.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)