‘The Pato and Josef Show:’ An IndyCar rivalry with on-track respect and onstage ribbing


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.

LONG BEACH PRIMERDetails, schedules for watching IndyCar this weekend

“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.

“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.

Josef Newgarden edged Pato O’Ward at Texas Motor Speedway in the April 2 race, their seventh 1-2 finish in the NTT IndyCar Series (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports).

“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?”

Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta shared a laugh at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last season (Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment).

“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.

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.”

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.”

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment
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DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

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Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and six red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500