By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 10 drivers from the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list concludes with champion Josef Newgarden.
Josef Newgarden, No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet
- 2017: 1st in the championship, 642 points
- Wins: 4, Top 5: 10, Top 10: 13, Poles: 1, Laps Led: 390
- Best Finish: 1st (Barber, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Gateway)
Why did Roger Penske hire Josef Newgarden? Potential. Potential that Newgarden showed by his supreme race craft at the third race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was the site of Newgarden’s initial win in 2015 for CFH Racing and Newgarden had a car that remained in the top five for the vast majority of the 2017 version of the race.
Late in the race with Charlie Kimball leading briefly thanks to an alternate strategy, Will Power was second with Scott Dixon third ahead of Newgarden. Newgarden muscled his way past the four time series champion and set his target on his teammate Power. Newgarden assumed the lead when Power pitted with a slowly deflating tire and never looked back, giving Team Penske a victory in only his third start for the team.
Newgarden’s path to the team mirrored his path to the title. He learned the ropes at his own pace and when it was time to perform, he put caution to the wind.
At Barber, that moment came when passing Dixon in the penultimate corner on Lap 69. At Toronto, Newgarden pitted at the perfect time that allowed him to come out ahead on pit stop strategy when a caution came out.
Mid-Ohio’s moment of performance came when passing Power while at Gateway the Tennessee native muscled his way past defending series champion Simon Pagenaud to win.
All the while, Newgarden learned from the masters. At Pocono he learned about how to defend on an oval as Power won ahead of him. At Road America and Sonoma he learned that sometimes when risks are too great that for a championship perspective second is better than throwing it off course.
Of course, Newgarden had to make mistakes to learn as well.
Sometimes a track just doesn’t give you a break, whether it’s speeding on pit road twice during the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis to crashing during Indianapolis 500 practice or getting caught up in the large accident on Lap 183 during the 500.
Sometimes going three wide at Texas is acceptable but not when you’re driving through speedy dry that’s put on the track that can upset the car’s balance.
Sometimes it’s not a good thing to rush out of the pits at a road course when there’s a wall just outside the pit exit lane. Newgarden found that out the hard way at Watkins Glen and nearly threw away his championship run in the penultimate race.
But despite not having the most top five finishes and having three fewer top 10 finishes than Dixon and teammate Helio Castroneves, Newgarden won more races than anybody else, led more races than anybody else and completed the second highest number of laps of anyone in the field bar Pagenaud who completed every lap this year (2,331 to Newgarden’s 2,266).
What surely has the Captain looking forward to 2018 is the fact that Newgarden has all the tools he needs to repeat his championship success next season.