Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Worlds Collide: 2019 IndyCar Champion Newgarden Turns Laps at Charlotte

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – If the smile on Josef Newgarden’s face when he climbed from the cockpit of his car after running laps at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL is any indication, the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion approved of the road course/oval hybrid that has been on the NASCAR circuit since last season.

A week after scoring his second championship in the open wheel ranks, Newgarden and Team Penske announced earlier in the week it would be heading to Charlotte for a demonstration with Newgarden and one of the team’s Chevrolet powered cars, marking the first time an open-wheel car would grace the  2.28-mile, 18-turn course.

“I’m excited,” Newgarden said ahead of the demonstration. “Like I told you, this is like a little bit of candy for me at the end of the week after the championship.

“I did like an hour of prep this morning. I’ve never seen this track. I’ve never driven it on anything, so I got a little bit of a taste of it on basically a desktop computer this morning just to figure out where I was going and getting the gears sorted out in my head.”

With Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, Newgarden’s teammates from the NASCAR side of Team Penske, watching alongside on pit road, along with several others all around the track keenly watching what was to come, Newgarden peeled away from his pit box shortly after Cup Series qualifying ended and set about tackling the treacherous ROVAL layout.

Six laps later, Newgarden had set a best time of 1 minute, seven seconds and the party was over as he made his way back to pit road and pulled into Victory Lane. As he exited the cockpit and removed his helmet, the mile-wide smile was immediately evident on Newgarden’s face.

“It was a blast,” Newgarden said. “The whole point of this was to celebrate with Pennzoil. It’s been such a great year for them. We won the (Indianapolis) 500 together as a team. Joey won his championship last year. We’re still kind of celebrating that. He’s still the champ and we just got another championship on the IndyCar side.

“It’s really been a cool opportunity they provided. You know, it all originated to showcase the partnership and the performance that they give us, but I think it ended up turning into a really cool discussion point.”

Throughout his career, Newgarden has had the opportunity to race on a number of different tracks, from road courses to street courses, short ovals, and superspeedways, so where does the reigning IndyCar champion think Charlotte’s ROVAL falls in that spectrum?

Somewhere in between it all.

“It’s for sure different than anywhere we go,” Newgarden said of the course. “I wouldn’t say it’s similar to anything. It’s clearly a road course, but it’s got some street course sections to it. Like Turn 1, Turn 2 remind me of a street course and then you’ve got the oval, which reminds me a little bit of the Indy GP that we run. And then everything else is something new.

“So, it didn’t really remind me of anything as a whole, but it had some characteristics of some different places we visit.”

With Newgarden turning laps Friday, the hype around a possible NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader or a return of the open wheel ranks to North Carolina went way up. While the coolness factor of seeing one car out turning laps was definitely felt by everyone in attendance, Newgarden noted that they’d really need a full-fledged test session to be able to assess the suitability of running an IndyCar race on Charlotte’s road course.

“I’d really like to see more Indy cars on the track, because then you would have a better idea of how we would race,” Newgarden said. “If we got a 20-car group running, you’d see kind of how we draft and I think we’d have a pretty good ability to race off of the infield, all the way down to the backstretch chicane. I think we’d probably get a lot of drafting going on there and probably see some guys make moves into that chicane, which would be a good passing zone. And the same thing again going into Turn 1-2.

“I think it has the potential to race really well here, but I wouldn’t limit it to this. I think this is where we chose to showcase our partnership with Pennzoil, but that’s not to say we couldn’t do something together somewhere else.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.