Newgarden Hitting Stride for May after Special Six Weeks

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Josef Newgarden

Has anyone in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES had a better six weeks than Josef Newgarden?

  • March 20: He executed a stunning last-corner pass for the victory in the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway;
  • April 10: He held off all challengers to win the prestigious Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach for the first time;
  • April 22: He posted the fastest lap of the two-day Indianapolis 500 Open Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, setting the stage for a run at his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory.

And not one of those was his best day during this stretch.

On April 20, Newgarden posted a photograph announcing the arrival of newborn boy Kota Nicolai, the first child of he and wife Ashley.

Suffice it to say, Newgarden was all smiles as last week’s IMS test concluded.

“Yeah, it’s been a good time,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate, and I’m really happy for our family.”

A weekend off allowed for a reset, and Newgarden expects to be ready for what’s ahead. The Month of May, which begins Sunday, offers three points-paying NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, highlighted by the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 29. The “500” is a race for which Newgarden is confident Team Penske will have everything ready to capture its record-setting 19th victory.

“I always feel confident with Team Penske – I don’t know how you couldn’t,” he said. “We’ve got the best of the best (equipment) and the best (people) in the business trying to maximize every inch of it.

“Sometimes we don’t get it right, and I felt we missed it last year. We redoubled our efforts and tried to assess everything and make changes to see where we might have gone wrong. I feel confident again this year that we’re going to have good answers for this place and have good speed.”

But first things first: Newgarden will take a five-point series lead over teammate Scott McLaughlin into this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst, a race he has won three times at Barber Motorsports Park. His victories were in 2015, 2017 and 2018, the latter from pole.

Newgarden is especially eager to return to the 17-turn, 2.3-mile Birmingham track because of what happened last year. On the opening lap, he lost control of his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, dropped wheels in the grass, spun and was struck first by Colton Herta and then by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Newgarden said he stewed over the mistake for about two days – “my normal 24-48 hours,” he said – and then turned his thoughts to what mattered the most to him.

“I was most sad that I didn’t get to run the race,” he said. “The race is my favorite part, and I felt good going into it.”

Newgarden left the season-opening race 23rd in the standings and spent the rest of the year clawing out of the hole. He got all the way to second, finishing 38 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou in the final standings. Newgarden’s season included a pair of race wins, four runner-up finishes and four NTT P1 Awards for being the fastest qualifier. Clearly, he has been on a roll since last year’s race at Barber, and he definitely likes the Barber layout.

“I think it’s just the high-speed nature of it, the banking and the camber changes,” he said of what he likes about Barber. “Those can be tricky for some people, but I think for us it works pretty well.”

Practice begins at 4 p.m. (ET) Friday, with live coverage on Peacock Premium, NBC Sports’ streaming service. A second practice (10 a.m. ET), NTT P1 Award qualifying (1 p.m. ET) and final practice (5:20 p.m. ET) are Saturday and the 90-lap race Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET) on NBC and Peacock Premium. The INDYCAR Radio Network will provide weekend coverage on its network affiliates, including indycar.com and the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.

A win for Newgarden would earn the $1 million bonus for completing the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge, a new incentive for the first driver to win a race on all three types of INDYCAR SERIES tracks. Newgarden checked the oval box by winning at Texas, and he added the street circuit requirement by conquering Long Beach. Barber is the first of seven road races on the schedule. After that is the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 14 at IMS.

The PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge is to be shared between the winning driver, his team and their selected charities.

Note the calendar. It’s about to be May, the month that can define an INDYCAR SERIES driver’s career. Newgarden is on a roll and ready for it.