In racing, single moments can define seasons, even if they aren't seen that way when they happen.
Josef Newgarden getting back on track with 17 laps to go in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader just might be one instance that stands out at the end of 2019.
The No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet crew working feverishly to fix the car after the driver made a mistake and crashed – despite little possibility of gaining additional championship points – speaks to the pride, cohesion and never-give-up attitude in Newgarden’s garage. The 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion returned to the race 19th and didn't gain one place, but the pride of his crew underlines the drive to win that defines the No. 2 squad.
Detroit error aside, Newgarden continues to show why he's one of finest talents in the NTT IndyCar Series today. His three wins, five podiums, seven top-fives and one pole in nine starts this year put him atop the points as the second half of the season begins, 25 ahead of second-placed Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi.
“We're in a good spot, there's no secret about that, but it's early,” Newgarden said after winning the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday and celebrating with his crew in victory lane.
“We just got to keep doing what we're doing. It's a little early to predict where everything will finish up. If we keep doing as we did in the first half of the season, we're going to be looking to challenge for a championship.”
The Detroit incident punctuated the way the No. 2 team closes ranks when the going gets tough and keeps pushing no matter the odds. But the performance at the Texas Motor Speedway showed that if Newgarden and his crew sniffs a way to victory, they zero in like a shark smelling blood. While it looked like Honda-powered cars enjoyed a distinct advantage in Texas after filling the first two rows and nine of the top 12 spots on the grid, Newgarden and his crew dug deep and beat the odds from seventh on the grid.
Strapped into a car that struggled to overtake but could run fast in clean air, Tim Cindric, Team Penske president and Newgarden’s race strategist, devised a plan and the crew executed it perfectly to get Newgarden into the lead when it mattered most. The driver did the rest.
“I knew once we were out front, we could pull it off,” said Newgarden. “It was well executed, well planned. Tim did a great job. The boys did a great job. It was up to them to put me in position, and they did.”
Newgarden grabbed the lead with just under 60 laps to go, benefiting from Cindric’s call 60 laps earlier to pit under a caution and only lose one position in the process. As the race approached the 190th of 248 laps on the 1.5-mile oval and his rivals made their final pit stops before him, Newgarden moved into first place and put down some impressive laps before and after his trip to the pit lane to get in position to win.
Newgarden re-entered in second place following his stop and took the lead for good on Lap 203 when Sebastien Bourdais pitted.
There was nail biting on the timing stand as Rossi tried repeatedly to get past in the final 10 laps after a full-course caution, but Newgarden refused to cede the bottom lane and forced the Andretti driver to go the long way around. Rossi came close a couple times but could not make a pass stick and crossed the finish line 0.8164 of a second back.
“I didn't see him up front all day,” Rossi lamented. “All of a sudden, he appears in P1.”
The message to all challengers was clear: Newgarden won't back down as he goes for his second title.
A key element that keeps the crew close-knit and high performing is Newgarden's race engineer, Gavin Ward, who joined the team in 2018 after several years with Red Bull Racing in Formula One.
“Gavin, he's a gem. All the guys love him, I love him. He fits well. It's hard for it to not work well,” Newgarden said.
“He's very positive, very optimistic, which actually goes pretty well with me. I normally am very optimistic, too. I feel like every weekend we show up, we can win the race. I think that combination together works really well.”
That doesn’t mean Newgarden will be taking anything for granted in the next eight races. Instead, he'll count on his team to keep working hard to put him in a position to take advantage of every opportunity.
“I think you've got to stay consistent throughout and you've got to stay on top of your game,” Newgarden said.
“I think we’ve got the best group for it. I have all the faith in everybody at Team Penske and I think we have a great crew — wouldn't trade anybody, any day of the week. The best of the best.”