By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden enters his second season with Team Penske with a lot less uncertainty.
Gone is the uncertainty of working with a large team; he’s had a year to get used to Team Penske. Gone are the questions of whether he would adapt; he won in his third race. But with a new car, there are new variables but similar approaches ahead of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“With the new car we don’t really know what we need here yet,” said Newgarden. “So I think within not too long of time we can figure out exactly what we need for the setup and be off quicker than the rest of the field. That’s really what it’s going to be down to is how quickly you can figure out what the car needs at St. Pete.”
Newgarden seems to excel at street circuits since he’s won twice at Toronto but St. Petersburg has been an anomaly. After winning in Indy Lights for Sam Schmidt in 2011, the Hendersonville, TN native’s best result is at St. Pete was an eighth place finish last year.
“All of these street circuits have really different characteristics,” said Newgarden. “St. Pete normally is a very understeer track, as the grip builds you normally struggle to turn the car, it builds a lot of rear security so just trying to figure out how to get the car to rotate through the corner is really the challenge here.”
After spending an entire year with the team, Newgarden is now fully integrated. Last year as the calendar turned over to March, the 2011 Indy Lights champion still didn’t know everybody on the team, but after his moves on teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud at Mid-Ohio and Gateway respectively, everybody knows him.
“I think it just makes you feel more confident and comfortable, I mean I feel more comfortable in the team, […] a year really does wonders for that,” said Newgarden.
Newgarden’s next attempt at a victory in St. Petersburg will be Sunday when the green flag drops at 12:40 ET on ABC.