By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden is back to form this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, seemingly no worse for wear following his brief hospital stay following last Sunday’s race at Iowa.
While there were some unknowns surrounding Newgarden’s status for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix, the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion got a partial clearance to practice on Friday morning, with clearance for the remainder of the weekend pending a re-evaluation afterwards.
After putting up the second fastest time in practice, that clearance came a short time later, with Newgarden given the green light for the rest of the weekend.
Like a man on a mission, Newgarden was fast again in qualifying, advancing all the way into the Fast Six before eventually capturing the fifth-place starting position for Saturday’s race.
Addressing his ordeal of the last week for the first time after qualifying, Newgarden was thankful for the support he has received since last Sunday and ready to get back in the fight this weekend at Indianapolis.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Newgarden said. “I really was very motivated to be here this weekend. Um, I knew if we weren’t in this race, it was going to be very difficult to stay in this championship fight. And that was kind of the end for me. I know that we have to be in the race. Whatever I have to do to be fit and prepared is the number one on my plate. And, yeah, we’re here.
“It’s a tremendous amount of support. I can’t thank IndyCar and their medical staff enough for all their help after the event. And then obviously everybody at Team Penske has just been unwavering with their support for me. We’re ready to go. We’ll be able to race tomorrow.”
Newgarden didn’t dive into deep details of what exactly happened at Iowa, but noted it was concussion-like in nature, leading him to do anything and everything needed to get healthy again and back behind the wheel of his No. 2 Chevrolet.
“I mean, I don’t want to get into too much of the medical side, but I certainly hit my head pretty hard on Sunday afternoon,” Newgarden said. “Obviously, the main concern at that point is a concussion. And just trying to make sure that there’s no lingering or long-term effects from that. Thankfully, I’m in really great shape. I’ve felt very good most of the week, so I think we’re in a pretty good spot.
“I don’t know that I did, but I think if you were a doctor, you probably would’ve said I was concussed after Sunday night, so it’s probably fair to say that. So, then it turns into a question of, you know, how severe was it and you know, how long was it going to linger?
“I really just went into fight mode in that, I don’t know what I have. I don’t know how severe of a concussion I do have. If I do have, I don’t even know if I have one. So, I just went in and rested for 48 hours as intensively as I could.
“Nothing really bugged me. I just did things because I heard they were the right things to do. I mean, light didn’t bug me, screens didn’t bug me, but I just avoided all that 48 hours to try and rest as much as possible. And then, by the time Tuesday came around, I felt pretty solid and it was just trying to track as best as I could up to Thursday.”
Newgarden added that while he would have liked the opportunity to prepare more for Saturday’s race, he was thankful to be able to lean on the resources of Team Penske to get up to speed quickly and hit the ground running once he received his clearance to race.
“It’s not ideal,” Newgarden said. “I mean, coming into this weekend, I was planning to be on the simulator Monday before coming here and that would’ve been nice to have that prep. I think we could’ve been in a better position coming into this weekend, but we’re not in a bad spot. Luckily, we have great cars here at team Penske. I’ve got great teammates to lean on. We qualified in the top five. I think that puts us in a great spot with PPG and Team Chevy for tomorrow.”
Now it’s game time for Newgarden with just five races remaining on the 2022 schedule. Sitting 34 points out of the lead, a third championship is well within striking distance and Newgarden is laser focused on being in the hunt all the way down the stretch.
“I’m just ready to be in the fight. Look, we’re well in the thick of the championship. We have a great opportunity here to stay in the fight. And I think go all the way down to the final event and possibly win the championship. That’s my focus.”