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


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.”

Texas starting lineup: Felix Rosenqvist back on pole; Scott Dixon qualifies second


FORT WORTH, Texas — For the second consecutive year, Felix Rosenqvist will lead the NTT IndyCar Series starting lineup to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Arrow McLaren driver is hoping the third time will be the charm at the 1.5-mile oval, where he has run extremely well but has only a career-best 12th in five starts.

“We’ve always been good here, but this is a whole different confidence level compared to last year,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Let’s try to wrap it up (Sunday).”

In 2020, Rosenqvist was competing for a podium when he crashed with 10 laps remaining at Texas.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for speeds from Saturday’s time trials

INDYCAR AT TEXASSchedule, start times, how to watch on NBC, Peacock

Last year, he started first on an oval for the first time in his career but finished 21st because of a broken halfshaft.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks, and naturally, I’ve always been OK here,” Rosenqvist said. “It was the first oval that made sense to me. Every year I’m building on that. But looking at the results, they don’t represent the speed I normally have.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I hope tomorrow is going to go a bit better and some luck our way would be nice. It’s been feeling super good. Arrow McLaren has been mega every session, so just keep it rolling.”

Arrow McLaren qualified all three of its Chevrolets in the top five, building on a second for Pato O’Ward and fourth for Alexander Rossi in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The March 5 season opener was a disappointing start for Rosenqvist who was squeezed into the wall by Scott Dixon on the first lap.

Dixon, a five-time winner at Texas, will start second Sunday, followed by Rossi and Josef Newgarden. O’Ward will start fifth alongside Takuma Sato, who will start on the outside of the third row in his Chip Ganassi Racing debut.

During nearly four hours of practice and qualifying (including a special high-line session), Saturday’s lone incident involved Conor Daly.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver spun three times but stayed off the wall and in the frontstretch grass. Aside from a front wing change and new tires, there was no damage to his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet during the incident midway through the 30-minute session in which drivers were limited to the high line.

“I hadn’t really had a moment before, but it snapped really aggressively,” Daly told NBC Sports after final practice. “Not ideal, but I do know my way around correcting a spin it seems like. I drove NASCAR last weekend and that seemed to help a little bit. I drove in the dirt a lot in USAC Midgets and seemed to be able to save something but not ideal or what we wanted to have happen.”

Daly will start 25th of 28 cars alongside teammate Rinus VeeKay in Row 13. Carpenter qualified 18th.

“Our three of our cars were clearly looking for something. Mechanical grip is for sure what we need. Qualifying we actually expected to be a lot better, but we found an issue there. We’ll see what happens. This race can change a lot. I’m confident in the team to hopefully figure some things out for tomorrow.”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 220.264 mph
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 219.972


3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevy, 219.960
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 219.801


5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 219.619
6. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 219.508


7. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 219.480
8. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 219.355


9. (18) David Malukas, Dallara-Honda, 219.256
10. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 219.184


11. (28) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Honda, 219.165
12. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Dallara-Honda, 219.146

ROW 7 

13. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Dallara-Chevy, 219.100
14. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevy, 218.892


15. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevy, 218.765
16. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 218.698


17. (77) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevy, 218.427
18. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 218.375

ROW 10

19. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevy, 218.367
20. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 218.227

ROW 11

21. (06) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 218.196
22. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 218.103

ROW 12

23. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Dallara-Honda, 217.676
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 217.611

ROW 13

25. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 217.457
26. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 216.880

ROW 14

27. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Dallara-Honda, 216.210
28. (30) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 216.103