By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
There’s been a saying around the paddock that even if you win races and championships at Team Penske, it’s still not enough because the biggest prize is an Indianapolis 500 triumph.
For two-time defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, it’s the only prize that remains in what’s been an illustrious career so far.
However, going into the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge, there’s some immense pressure for Newgarden to deliver because he’s the only one out of the four-car stable that hasn’t won the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Even more pressure is the fact the last two Indy 500s were won by teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud while Newgarden finished eighth and fourth in those races. And oh by the way, Roger Penske owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so there’s a definite sense of urgency.
Those comments in mind, the ever typical Newgarden has remained calm and confident, knowing it takes a lot of factors for a driver to put themselves in a spot to win.
“Every race I go into, I feel like we can win it. You always got to have that attitude. The 500 is no different,” said Newgarden, who only has two top-fives in eight previous Indy 500 starts.
“I think it’s all about putting yourself in position to give yourself an opportunity to win the race. You have to give yourself an opportunity to win. If you don’t do that, you’ll never be there at the end of the race. Trying to get through the first three-quarters of it is important.”
As it pertains of having Indy 500 winning teammates on his side and excellent engineers, like Gavin Ward, there’s another reason why Newgarden has stayed positive that could play a role into this year perhaps being the year he finally captures that elusive victory.
“We have the team to do it, as you know,” said Newgarden. “Have the best teammates, best engineers, best owners. I always feel we have a shot. I see no differently this year that that shot is going to be different.”
In the two days of practice, the Penske cars hasn’t set the world on fire thus far because like a few other teams, they’re concentrating on race trims over being flashy on the leaderboard with Newgarden believing the quartet are going to be faster than a year ago.
More so when the cars feel like a knife on edge, as Power illustrated with Newgarden vouching his comment because this year has been difficult for the drivers to navigate the 2.5-mile circuit.
At the same time, such explanation won’t be fully attainable until Fast Friday unfolds.
“We should be going pretty quick this year. Looking at all the simulations, it’s hard to fully predict, but I think we’re going to be faster than last year,” said Newgarden.
“To Will’s point, with the weight of the car, it does have some trickiness at points on the way you’re driving it. I think it could be a lot more difficult than last year. I think you can trim enough out of the car where it’s still not easy and it’s going to come down to the driver getting the most out of it.
“So we’ll see. I don’t think we have a great answer on that yet until we really test it out today. But it could be a tough qualifying, which is good news for the drivers.”