Pride, passion and pain: Josef Newgarden mulls another runner-up championship finish


MONTEREY, California – Josef Newgarden walked into the media center for the final postrace interview of the 2022 IndyCar season as if he were in a trance.

To make matters worse, he arrived early, while rival team owner Bobby Rahal and driver Christian Lundgaard were finishing a news conference about Lundgaard’s 2022 IndyCar Rooke of the Year title.

Newgarden looked worn out. He gave everything he had behind the wheel of his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet at Team Penske in an attempt to win Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and, conceivably, the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

A mistake and a spin in the Corkscrew during Saturday’s qualifications put him in a deep hole. He started 25th but quickly passed cars as if they were sitting still.

“I was just old-school driving,” Newgarden said. “I was going back to junior days. What happens, happens. I’m just going as hard as I can.”

On Lap 46, he passed teammate and championship leader Will Power for second place. If Newgarden could win the race, and Power finished outside the podium, Newgarden could have a shot at the championship.

But race winner Alex Palou was untouchable, opening an insurmountable gap to second place Newgarden.

Palou’s No. 10 Honda crossed the finish line 30.382 seconds ahead of Newgarden’s Chevy. Power was third and clinched his second NTT IndyCar Series championship by 16 points.

Newgarden considers himself a perfectionist. He drove a nearly perfect race, but in his mind, never should have made the mistake in qualifications that forced him to start 25th in the 26-car field at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

When Newgarden took his seat alongside Palou in the postrace interview, his eyes looked forward as if he were a million miles away as Palou discussed his only victory in the 2022 season.

One only could guess what Newgarden was thinking. At one point, he lowered his head and rubbed his eyes.

This is the pain that comes with finishing second in the IndyCar Series championship for the third year in a row. It’s also the pain that comes with winning four more races than the series champion in 2022 – five wins to Power’s one.

But Power had nine podium finishes, and Newgarden had six.

“We just needed to have a more consistent season,” Newgarden lamented. “There’s no doubt. I think that the peak performance was there all year. We just didn’t have the consistency. That ultimately is what put us in an unfavorable position when we came here.

“If we can clean that up, I have no doubt we can challenge for the championship again next year.”

Newgarden joined Team Penske in 2017 and was an instant success as he won the championship his first year with the team. Two years later, Newgarden had another championship in 2019.

Since that championship, Newgarden has been the strongest closer in IndyCar, but he could grab the championship away from the leader. In 2020, Scott Dixon built a huge lead early in a pandemic-impacted season where the schedule featured doubleheaders at most venues and three races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in order to have a full season.

Newgarden charged hard at the end of that year and won the season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida, but Dixon won the championship by 16 points.

Entering the 2021 season finale in Long Beach, Newgarden was third in points behind Palou and Pato O’Ward. After openly wondering why he was part of a championship contender prerace media event, Newgarden raced to a second-place finish as O’Ward crashed on Lap 43. Palou finished fourth and won the championship by 38 points over Newgarden.

Sunday at Laguna Seca, he finished 16 points behind Power on another strong closing performance.

“Well, we tried today for sure,” Newgarden said. “We gave our best, as we always do. Alex was tough to catch today. I think he just was incredible, particularly on the last couple stints. He did a really amazing job. It was going to be hard to get to him.

For the second consecutive season, Josef Newgarden finished second in the IndyCar season finale and the championship standings (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“We got all the way to second, we just need one more spot, but Alex seemed a little out of reach today. So tremendous job by them.

“I’m happy we were able to fight back to where we did. It was a tough day, and we knew we had to fight. Ultimately, we’ve come up short in this championship. We’ve got to be in a different position next year and fight a lot harder so that we can hopefully be in a much more favorable position coming into this weekend, and I believe we can do that.

“It’s been a really tough year. It’s been good in a lot of ways, but it’s also been really negative in a lot of others. I’m excited for a reset, excited to come back next year, and I know we’ve got the team to do the job.”

With pain comes pride. There was no reason Newgarden couldn’t help but be proud of his effort, but an eighth at Portland on Sept. 4 followed by his spin and failure to advance out of the first round of qualifications at Laguna Seca were extremely costly in a quest for a championship.

“I think it’s a different day if you start on pole for sure,” Newgarden said. “That gives us a very different picture. We’re going to run a different race and we’re going to run it from no deficit. We started this race last, so we started at a big deficit.

“It’s hard to predict. If we didn’t have the deficit, I don’t know if we would have had enough to beat this guy (Palou) today. He was stellar, and there’s no doubt about it, so I don’t want to marginalize what he did.

“But it’s a different day when you start first. We wouldn’t have had that deficit to make up.

“I don’t know how that would have turned out. I don’t know if it would have kind of changed (Power’s) program. Really, we win the pole, we win the day, all I need is for Power to finish fourth, and that seems pretty doable.

“Ultimately, the spin was almost the nail in the coffin this weekend. It just was. We didn’t need that to happen. It was such a silly thing to happen, too. It wasn’t some grandiose problem. There’s one curb you don’t want to touch, and I accidentally touched it, and it created a big issue.

“Yeah, hard to say how it would have come out if we had put the thing on pole, but I would rather have done that and seen what happened than have to come from the back today.”

Newgarden was proud of the effort from his team. He offered congratulations to Power’s championship crew, because as they say at Team Penske, “A win for one car is a win for all of us.”

“Obviously we’re all competitive, and we want to personally be the winners, but when we win as a team, it is big for everybody,” Newgarden said. “I’m filled with a lot of pride.

“But I’m also filled with a little bit of a relief. I’m kind of happy to come into this offseason reset, recharge, and then figure out a way to just hit everybody harder next year, and I know we can do that.

“The other overwhelming positive in my mind is I know we can do better than this year. I just know we can. When we put it together, I’m just telling you, just watch out, because when we put it together, it’s going to be big.”

In a sense, Newgarden has to feel proud about his effort. He gave everything he had, squeezed every last ounce of effort he could behind the wheel and pushed the race car as hard as it could go, only to see the winning driver disappear in the distance and his championship hope fade away.

“That was everything I had today,” Newgarden said. “We were short ultimately to Alex. We’re going to have to reassess and figure out how we make ourselves a little bit better to the deficit that we had to Alex in those last couple stints. I’ve got some ideas already, and I think if we were going to run this race again, I already know what we’d try, and if we start up further then that changes the game, too. I’m hopeful for another shot.

“As far as what we put together today, that was everything we had.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).