Yesterday, while overlooking Sonoma Raceway at the Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma, California, the IndyCar championship points leader looked back on the season. On the cusp of the biggest race of his season and arguably his career, Newgarden is taking it all in stride, explaining that he looks at every race the same and does his best to train his brain and not let his thoughts of the future and potential outcomes overwhelm him,
“I don’t listen to my brain. I tell my brain what to think. You have to control your thoughts. It’s not like I’m a Jedi, though.”
Drivers: they’re just like us! Keeping their thoughts in check and making movie references in normal conversation.
The driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevy explained that his attempt to approach every race the same way comes down to something pretty simple between him and his crew, “We just have to do the things that have worked for us. Treating it different is when you get in trouble.”
Makes sense. Considering that the No. 2 Chevy team wanted this to be more than just a learning year, but never expected to be a points leader, means that they are doing something right. A lot of somethings, actually, considering they lead the paddock in wins this season. Newgarden grabbed wins at Barber Motorsports Park and on the streets of Toronto, both his second career wins at those tracks, along with first time wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the series return to Gateway Motorsports Park.
He feels confident about the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend, recalling that he’s had speed here in the past and even battled for pole back in 2014 when he made it in the Firestone Fast 6. Qualifying is quite important at Sonoma Raceway, with 10 of 12 wins coming from a P3 starting position and the other two wins starting from P5 and P9. Interestingly enough, those latter two were accomplished by Scott Dixon. Newgarden likes that this year at at least, “…from a strategy standpoint you don’t have to rely on people finishing in a certain order. If we win, we know we have the championship.”
A win here would not only guarantee him the championship, but would signify his first career win at Sonoma… a similar scenario, as it was the same one Simon Pagenaud found himself in, going into the finale last year. Could Newgarden achieve the same as his teammate who looks to defend his current championship title? A pole, win, and championship in Northern California?
Newgarden’s four fellow champ contenders will do their best to overtake him in points, their past experience and success at Sonoma helping them towards that goal; all four have wins here with the most recent being the aforementioned situation for Pagenaud, Dixon in 2007, 2014, and 2015, Helio Castroneves in 2008 and Will Power in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
Of those 4 drivers, who does Newgarden find to be his biggest threats in the race for the Astor Cup? All of them, honestly. He sees Team Penske teammate and reigning champion, Simon Pagenaud along with Ganassi Racing driver and 4-time champ, Scott Dixon to be pretty equal in their threat level, but admits that everyone is thanks to talent, in addition to double points at the season finale still being a reality. With his Penske teammates, he’s been able to watch them and see the threat in a real light, but Dixon and Newgarden aren’t close in that kind of aspect, so he doesn’t know what to expect. But as many can attest to, including Newgarden… Dixon should never be underestimated.
Diving into that Team Penske dynamic a bit more, Newgarden explains how much he has learned this year and that strengths and weaknesses amongst drivers, crews, at certain tracks, etc. is something that rotates all year long. He went on to discuss how they all learn setup tips from one another – some work for everyone, some don’t, but Newgarden admits that,
“Having access to that makes me better. If we didn’t have that transparency and competitiveness within our team, then I don’t think we’d be the team we are or as successful.”
It’s a hard fact and the feedback is notable – the reasons for Team Penske’s dominance and success through so many forms of motorsport and so many decades in the industry itself can be traced back to Roger himself, and the way that he insists business be done.
When you set the bar as high as it can go, laying out a plan for your team to follow, involving rawly-talented individuals from all different departments of motorsport, and refuse to settle for less… producing solid results is a predictable outcome. We’ve heard many time that “human capital” is the most valuable thing at Team Penske. That focus is serving the Captain well, as he has all four of this drivers in position to bring a 15th IndyCar Championship home to their North Carolina headquarters, with Josef Newgarden leading the charge.