Coming into the 2020 IndyCar season as reigning champion, Josef Newgarden has proved time and again to be a formidable NTT IndyCar Series driver. But while his bad days are infrequent, they tend to be really bad—and Newgarden will have two races at one of his worst tracks to contend with this year. He’ll have to even out the lows to bolster the highs.
No. 1 Team Penske (4th year)
2019 IndyCar champion. Wins at St. Petersburg, Detroit (Race 1), Texas, and Iowa. Podiums at Circuit of the Americas, Long Beach, and Road America.
Changes for 2020
Due to being the reigning IndyCar champion, Newgarden will be contesting the season using No. 1 instead of his usual No. 2.
Wild night at @txmotorspeedway! Battled issues most of the night and finished solid P3. Great work by @team_penske to keep us up front all night. We’ll be back and ready to go at @IMS in a few weeks.
ALSO…. @INDYCAR IS BACK! ?#RELENTLESS pic.twitter.com/ySF6jjbPmV
— Josef Newgarden (@josefnewgarden) June 7, 2020
Strengths in 2020
Josef Newgarden has been fairly consistent since he joined up with Team Penske, and that quality is going to come in handy this year. With a season of double-headers and rapidly paced events, drivers who are able to quickly recover from a bad race or a bad session are going to thrive, and Newgarden is one of them. And he has already started the season on a high; capturing pole position at Texas Motor Speedway followed by a podium finish (even with a car that was suffering from vibrations) proved that Newgarden is ready to get after it.
That includes against his colleagues. At a team like Penske, beating teammates is more about maintaining a slight edge than it is about absolute domination. Since he joined Penske, Newgarden’s side of the garage has frequently shown that it can get the job done while Will Power and Simon Pagenaud crack. The 2020 IndyCar season is going to depend on catching mistakes long before they happen, and his crew can do that.
Challenges in 2020
Newgarden has never finished higher than 11th at the GMR Grand Prix in his IndyCar career. He’s a two-time championship winning driver, but something about that race just seems to elude him. And in 2020, there are two Indianapolis road course races scheduled: one in July and one in October. While Newgarden has overcome his struggles in the past—he won at St. Petersburg in 2019 despite never finishing higher than seventh there before—this particular track is likely to be a speed bump for his championship hopes.
Newgarden is also coming off a 2019 season that went downhill after his win at Iowa. Mid-Ohio, Gateway, Portland, and Laguna Seca were all disappointing relative to the expectations for Team Penske—and those are most of the tracks that he’ll have to face in the abbreviated 2020 IndyCar season. If Newgarden wants to retain his IndyCar title, he’s going to have to master those end-of-season races.
2020 will be a year of extreme highs and lows for Josef Newgarden. The calendar is packed with just as many of the tracks he struggles with as the tracks he excels at, and his performance at the end of 2019 was not confidence-inspiring. He’ll win races at Iowa and Road America, but Newgarden won’t retain the drivers’ championship.
The 2020 IndyCar season continues Saturday, July 4 with the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will air at 12:15 p.m. ET on NBC.
About the author
Elizabeth Blackstock is lead IndyCar writer for Frontstretch, a freelance journalist, and a novelist. She earned her bachelor's degree at the University of Texas at Austin and is currently pursuing a dual MFA/MA degree at Arcadia University. She is in love with her car, a 2013 Mazda 2.
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