Barber Motorsports Park is a pretty special place. From the rolling landscape of green hills, tall trees, colorful flowers, eclectic art sculptures, and of course avid racing fans… there’s nothing but awesome for as far as you can see. The vantage points are too many to list. People are sprawled out all along the perimeter of the 2.3 mile road course, taking shade on the edge of the forest that overlooks Charlotte’s Web and the backstretch, and up in the paddock suites with a bird’s eye view of all the action on pit lane. Every view is a good one, and many will tell you that watching from above Turn 2 is the absolute best.
I talked to some friends tonight after the race, that found themselves watching the race literally above all the action… they were on bridge that goes out from the Motorcycle Museum and over the track… with a clear glass walkway. It all came together because of a friend they made over the weekend.
Life is all about relationships and connections you make with other people. Racing is no different. This world seems overwhelmingly huge when you first find yourself on the inside, but it shrinks in direct correlation to the amount of time you stay and invest in it. I love that. It’s a huge part of the ‘human side of racing’ that I’ve always been drawn towards. You continually meet people, you end up in different groups, having different experiences you never even bothered considering or dreaming about because they were even too far-fetched to imagine within the confines of your own psyche.
I feel like that’s the kind of reality Josef Newgarden is living in right now. He started out in the Verizon IndyCar Series a short 5 years ago with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. In his rookie year he struggled to find his place, learning a new car in a new series and committing to bettering himself and his craft in his chosen career path. He led his first lap at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA during the season finale.
He stayed with SFHR for two more seasons, earning six Top 5 finishes including 2 podiums (Baltimore 2013, Iowa 2014). The following year his team merged with Ed Carpenter Racing to form Carpenter Fisher Hartman. This is when Josef found the first victory of his IndyCar career, right here at Barber Motorsports Park. He went on to earn win number two on the Streets of Toronto that summer.
2016 brought about more change, with CFH Racing disbanding. Newgarden stayed with Carpenter and signed with the re-formed, Ed Carpenter Racing.
For some people, change is a good thing. It keeps them on their toes and in a heightened state of awareness. It seems to me, that Newgarden is one of those people. He continued to grow and accel in his racing career – adding eleven Top 10 finishes to his resume in 2016 with four of those being podiums. One of those podiums was a win at Iowa Speedway, where he absolutely dominated the entire field. His drive at that event was one of those most impressive displays of driving the entire season… which is saying a lot because the 2016 IndyCar season overall, was an incredible display of motorsports mastercraft.
Newgarden experienced yet another big change this past off-season, transitioning over to Team Penske to pilot the No. 2 Chevrolet. And he was essentially filling the shoes of Juan Pablo Montoya. No pressure there.
But hey, IndyCar drivers are diamonds in the rough. Their skill and talent are only made sharper and more clear to outsiders because of the extreme pressure placed on them. So as anticipated, this was a fantastic move for Josef. And today, I’m sure Roger Penske is feeling very confident in his decision. That’s not a huge surprise to anyone though – Penske is inherently amazing at talent-spotting. He has two series champions, a 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and now a young gun that brought home a P2 finish in his second race with the team, and a win in his third.
Newgarden commented after today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama that the momentum of the series really pushes drivers and teams into a great “state of being” if you will, particularly after a race win…
“IndyCar is a momentum sport. You have to be positive at all points with everybody. It’s not just from the driving side. (A win creates motivation). Everyone is calmer on the stand. It resonates with everybody. We can continue to focus forward, not get too anxious during a weekend. I think success definitely can breed success.”
He also touched base on the tracks he has had the most success – twice at a permanent road course (Barber), once at a temporary street circuit (Toronto) and once at a short oval (Iowa). So naturally, with IndyCar having four distinct track types, he has his eye on that fourth design…
“You have to be good everywhere. You can’t have weak spots. If you do, you’re going to struggle throughout the year. I haven’t personally ticked off a superspeedway. I guess that would be the next thing to try to conquer.”
The next superspeedway on the schedule for the Verizon IndyCar Series is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a ‘lil race titled the Indianapolis 500. It just so happens to be coming up next month. I suppose that’s as good a place as any to check off that box… and I have a feeling that both Josef Newgarden and Roger Penske would be just fine with that outcome.
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Photo: Shay Hazen / LFT