Newgarden earns first IndyCar Championship, plans to appreciate the moment

For the first time since 2012, the stars and stripes draped over the shoulders of the new Verizon IndyCar Series Champion. Josef Newgarden capped off his first season at Team Penske with a series title and a field-leading 4 wins to his name. He also celebrated with his engine manufacturer, Chevrolet, as they earned their 6th Manufacturer’s Championship title in a row with IndyCar.

The title-sponsor of the series was also that of Newgarden’s car for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, in the form of hum by Verizon, the driving product of the tech company who also happens to be the most dependable network and wireless provider in this country.

Newgarden feels pride in representing the United States in the series, and the series itself over the next year. His focus to be an ambassador for the sport with this new title was strong, even just an hour into his newly crowned role,

“I’ll carry the flag happily. I love the IndyCar Series. I think it’s got the whole world in front of it. It can go so many good ways. I’ll do the best that I can to help spread the word and show people how great this sport is.

I think people have been catching on to be honest with you, over the last couple years. They’re coming back to the sport. Anyone that we lost over the last 20 years, I think they’ve been coming back over the last five or six seasons, and we’ve got to make sure that we keep doing that.

It’s not one big step, it’s going to be little steps at a time, and I think in the next five years hopefully we can be in an amazing place. I think we’re in a good place right now, but we want to be in an amazing place. I’ll do my best to carry that flag and help everyone in the Verizon IndyCar Series keep going up.”

I could have chopped that up, but honestly, I thought it was important for everyone to hear Newgarden’s complete and unfiltered thoughts, and the responsibility he already feels to keep this ship sailing in the right direction.

We all recognize the changes and positivity coming out of IndyCar over the past few season, but it’s nice to have that insider’s perspective from a driver to know that we aren’t projecting our hopes on the progress and that these things really are happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future.

One of the things that Newgarden touched upon was the accessibility we see in the Verizon IndyCar Series. They are the benchmark for motorsports when it comes to fan interaction and the portrayal of our drivers as actual people who happen to do what the love for a living, and as it so happens, are insanely talented. Newgarden discussed that a bit and his own part in the social aspect that the series has honed in on and continues to perfect as the weeks and months go by,

“The fun stuff that I’ve been able to do along the way has been enjoyable at times, it really has. I’ve enjoyed that part of it, and I think it’s great for our fans that they enjoy it and they want to see it more, and I feel like IndyCar has kind of pushed the boundaries more than other sports in a lot of ways sooner than other sports, too, and involving ourselves with the fans and making ourselves more just human and normal to people instead of just sports idols. I think that’s a great thing.”

Without fans, this series would cease to exist – or at the least, it wouldn’t have it’s own ground to stand on among the other sports circles. The connection between IndyCar athletes and their fanbase is something to be admired, imitated, and appreciated.

It was brought to my attention by someone watching from home, that they noticed Newgarden signing autographs and talking to fans before making his way on stage at Sonoma Raceway to accept the Astor Cup. That fact does not surprise me in the least, because that is the epitome of IndyCar. It makes moments like yesterday important to not just the series, or the driver, or those fans who will forever feel a part of that moment, but it makes a mark on the history of the sport of auto-racing itself. It sets a standard, an example. It gives Team Penske and Josef Newgarden a sense of accomplishment after all the hard work and focus. That earned pride and recognized achievement is not lost on the new champion,

“I think we’ve got to be really proud of what we did this year. We’ve got to enjoy it. You have to — someone reminded me that you have to take time to enjoy these moments because it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take the time to enjoy it and appreciate it. We’re going to do that for sure.”

The success of it all however, does not keep him from staying grounded and remembering that nothing lasts forever,

“…But what the future holds, I don’t think we can get ahead of ourselves. It takes a lot of work to do what we did this year, and I hope we’re able to do it many, many times over.

It doesn’t always work out that way, so we’ve got to be on our toes, make sure we’re aggressive but cautious at the same time, and I hope 10, 20 years down the road we’ve got many more championships and hopefully some Indy 500s along the way, too.”

Those are attainable goals for the Tennessee-native and the most winningest team in Indy car racing history. Newgarden has always had that it-factor on track and fans noticed it off-the-bat in Mazda Road to Indy when he won 5 races and the championship in Indy Lights back in 2011. He was on Roger Penske’s radar as well and it’s pretty cool to see him reaching his potential in his sixth full season of the series. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning in a very long and illustrious career for Josef Newgarden, and I can’t wait to see it all play out in what’s sure to be adrenaline-fueled fashion.

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Photo credit: Shay Hazen, Live Full Throttle