LONG BEACH, Calif. – On the same night that the ballyhooed “100 Days to Indy” premiered, so did the impromptu debut of “The Pato and Josef Comedy Revue.”
The long-awaited docuseries about the NTT IndyCar Series was screened Wednesday in a glitzy, Hollywood-style red carpet event ahead of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the first of six episodes focused heavily on Josef Newgarden (and especially the two-time champion’s highly sculpted abs).
But in the extended and loose Q&A with five drivers on stage, the star clearly was Pato O’Ward, who playfully made Newgarden his favorite target. The IndyCar points leader is a foodie who keeps a list of his favorite restaurants in the notes app on his phone that he proudly shares.
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“Now it’s in the hands of a lot of people,” O’Ward said, gesturing toward Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson before a devilish pause. “Josef, do you have it?”
A few minutes later, O’Ward turned an innocuous question (“Was there anything in this first episode that surprised any of you?”) from host Kevin Frazier of “Entertainment Tonight” into another gleeful laser beam at the driver who barely beat him two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Josef, I just want to know: What do I have to do to look like you?” O’Ward asked, prompting guffaws from the crowd.
“Too heavy,” Newgarden quipped back. “I’ve got to lose weight.”
There was no offense taken at being in the crosshairs of charismatic IndyCar points leader, who was “built for cameras and this show.
“I’m so excited to see Pato in (‘100 Days to Indy’),” Newgarden said. “I feel like you’ve had a fascinating life that none of us really fully know about. I really want to see it. I’m so pumped for it.”
“I don’t disagree,” O’Ward said, pausing for dramatic effect. “I love my life.”
And the Arrow McLaren star loves needling Newgarden — the 32-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee, whom many consider the well-coiffed and eloquent face of IndyCar — just as much.
Last night @ the 100 days to Indy premiere. Got to see the first episode… you guys are going to love it. Docu series goes live on @TheCW April 27th and every Thursday after that. pic.twitter.com/qYSw8FBPzd
— Pato O'Ward (@PatricioOWard) April 13, 2023
“I was trying to break Josef a little bit out of character,” O’Ward told NBC Sports two days after the event. “He’s so perfect all the time! It’s like dude, you can relax. Because I’ve seen him in a relaxed environment. Rarely! But I’ve seen him.
“I like messing with Josef. Because it’s kind of like messing with a big brother sort of thing, because the guy’s like 10 years older than I am. I just like to poke him and mess with him, because I know he enjoys it. But the guy’s like the Penske Perfect always. I like to rattle him a bit. I know he enjoys it.”
IndyCar undoubtedly is enjoying the captivating repartee, too, between two of its biggest stars as the series seeks to build exposure for its personalities and storylines through entertainment platforms and vehicles such as “100 Days to Indy.”
While Newgarden vs. O’Ward might lack the emotional fireworks and feuding of Bobby Unser vs. Mario Andretti or Paul Tracy vs. Sebastien Bourdais (or A.J. Foyt vs everybody), it’s clearly emerging as one of the best rivalries in IndyCar.
Texas marked the seventh time that they have finished 1-2 in three years (Newgarden has the advantage with five victories to O’Ward’s two), and it’s been fierce since the outset. In the Aug. 30, 2020 race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Newgarden won a drag race off pit lane and side by side on the apron onto the backstretch “which is very difficult and really tricky to stay side by side and not wreck each other.
“We’ve had really good racing,” Newgarden told NBC Sports about O’Ward. “One hundred percent, there’s certainly a strong respect there. It’s very clear, and I’ve always thought this about Pato: This guy is going to be one of the elites in this sport. He’s clearly one of the best to step into an Indy car. He’s very deserving to be here. I think he’s got respect for me, too, and what I’ve done.
“It’s fierce. He’s just one of the guys you’re going to absolutely have to beat. And I have a ton of respect for him. I think he’s a very clean driver. He’s an aggressive driver. But very clean, very fast. He’ll be around for a long time, so just somebody you have to account for.”
The feeling is mutual for the 23-year-old who was born south of the border but grew up in the San Antonio, Texas, area.
“We race really hard and very respectful, but I feel when we go up against each other, there’s a lot of trust that he puts in my hands and a lot of trust that I put in his,” O’Ward said of Newgarden. “I’m sure sometime in our careers, we’re probably going to get a little more than what we’ve had in the past, but he’s a great competitor. I love racing against him. He’s also one of the benchmarks the last good amount of years, most of the time the leading Penske driver. He’s always there fighting in the championship.
“He’s somebody that you’ll never get rid of, so I’ve really grown to just enjoy racing against him. And I think he does as well.”
Said Newgarden: “I just think there’s a few people on the grid, outside of your teammates, that you can really run them hard, and it’s not going to go over the line, at least not intentionally. Pato’s one of those people, and I really think (Alex) Palou is one of those people. I’ve had the same type of racing with him as well.
“They’re just the best of the best. They don’t wreck often for a reason, and they’re also incredibly fast. They just have the whole thing. (Scott) Dixon obviously is like that because of everything you’ve seen from him, but I’d put Pato and Alex as the best.”
The barbs didn’t stop at the “100 Days to Indy” aftershow as the conversation moved to how Newgarden met his wife, Ashley. She was working as a Disney World cast member princess during a family dinner when Newgarden’s father slipped her his son’s email address.
“He slid into the DMs for you?” O’Ward asked.
“Pato, I know that’s the thing now, but this was pre-DMs,” Newgarden explained. “She emailed and signed off ‘From Ariel.’ ”
“I thought she was Snow White. Why didn’t you just go look for her?”
“Everyone at that table knew I wanted to know who she was. I was fascinated by this woman! I was trying to find her, but it’s an impossible task to figure out a Disney princess. The moral of the story is dreams come true.”
“If that gets you to it, bro,” O’Ward poked again with a broad smile. “Come on!”
The exchange revealed the yin and the yang of their dispositions.
O’Ward is the colorful, gregarious and vibrant extrovert who has welcome the “100 Days to Indy” cameras to follow his every move (as well as several family members) this year from Indianapolis to Monterey, Mexico.
Lets get ittttttttt. Back in the streeeetz . pic.twitter.com/4CApxy6ZEs
— Pato O'Ward (@PatricioOWard) April 15, 2023
Newgarden is an admitted introvert who is a great interview but also extremely guarded about his private life (IndyCar fans will get their first extended glimpse of Newgarden his newborn son, Kota, at home with Ashley in “100 Days to Indy”).
But there actually are some off-track intersections amid a love of expensive cars and high-end merchandise.
“We have common ground in that we both like really nice stuff,” Newgarden said. “Pato probably enjoys showing it off more than I do, which is OK. That’s his personality. He’s very extroverted. I’m very introverted. He enjoys nice food. He’s got his list. People know about his list. I have my own list. People don’t know about my list.
“So we’re very different, but I think we have common ground there. We both like nice stuff, and that’s probably what we relate over. But I’m not going to show anybody.”
Shielding his personal side is partly why Newgarden is a good fit for clean-cut Team Penske, which has emphasized the importance of image-conscious drivers who keep sponsors happy while avoiding controversy.
That means little of the fodder found with any feud — competitors ripping each other on a regular basis to drive the juicy headlines that racing fans love.
Can a rivalry built on mutual respect be just as captivating?
“I hope so because that’s what IndyCar is,” Newgarden said. “We’ve been talking about this for multiple years now. Rivalries are essential. It’s a part of the story. It’s what make people interested in it. Why do they want to be invested in it? Well, I want to see people truly compete and say what they frickin’ feel.
“But a lot of what you see in IndyCar is this friendly competition stuff, but it’s not fake. That’s how we are over here. You don’t have a lot of ‘I want to punch you in the face’-type rivalries. It’s just not how it is. There’s people that disagree and maybe don’t get along, but they have respect for each other. And I think it’s part of the DNA of IndyCar racing, especially oval racing in IndyCar.”
Texas Two-Step ☑️
Incredible job by the @team_penske crew today. Absolutely awesome fight for the win. That’s what @indycar oval racing is all about! 🔥🔥🔥#INDYCAR | #PPG375 pic.twitter.com/v1GR7UzmCk
— Josef Newgarden (@josefnewgarden) April 2, 2023
IndyCar rivalries inherently have been a different breed from NASCAR, where contact is encouraged, and the cars are built to tolerate the damage.
“If you don’t show enough respect, there’s no room for that in (IndyCar) oval racing,” Newgarden said. “And I think that’s why over time it has bred this culture over here where I want to beat him, but I have respect for him, and I want to do the right thing by him. I hope that can exist because that’s what people are going to get. I just don’t think you’ll be able to force this brawler type over here. It’s just not how IndyCar is.”
But it still leaves room for the type of jousting that IndyCar got Wednesday in Long Beach.
“I was having fun with it,” O’Ward said. “Fans like it. We do need to protect what we’re saying with partners and sponsors, but at the end of the day, it’s, ‘Let’s have fun.’ ”
Said Newgarden: “If anybody was built for cameras, it’s Pato. So he’s always going to crush it.”