Race Weekend Central

Inside IndyCar: Josef Newgarden Dominates Iowa Like No Other

In 2014, during a late yellow flag period at the Iowa Speedway, third-year NTT IndyCar Series driver Josef Newgarden pitted his Sarah Fisher Hartman Honda for fresh tires. In a 9-lap shootout, the American moved up from 11th and by the finish only trailed winner Ryan Hunter-Reay for his second career runner-up result.

That would ignite an impressive run at Iowa for Newgarden, who has shown nothing but dominance there regardless of chassis, engine or team.

He returned in 2015 and finished second again, but led for the first time, taking point for 111 laps. He was unable to overcome the then-King of Iowa, Hunter-Reay, repeating the finishing order from the year before.

Then, in 2016 with Ed Carpenter Racing, he put a display that earned the respect of the paddock, including Roger Penske. Just a few weeks removed from a vicious crash at Texas Motor Speedway in which he broke his clavicle, Newgarden paced the field for 282 laps to finally take a win in the Hawkeye State. At the end of the season, he signed to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske .

See also
Conor Daly Filling In for Simon Pagenaud at Iowa

Prior to his signing, Penske had no wins at the 7/8 mile short track. Heading into this weekend, Newgarden has added three Iowa trophies to Penske’s historic collection.

Fast forward to 2023. Teams tested in June at the track, but Newgarden wasn’t there so no one in the paddock has a real gauge of what he is bringing. The stats are all the evidence needed though.

Even in the races that weren’t victories, Newgarden has still been a factor. Overall, the Tennessee native has racked up four wins, two runner-ups, and led over 1,500 laps. In races he’s won, he did so by dropping the sledgehammer on his foes, with laps led counts of 282, 245, 214 and 208. And he was out front on the verge of sweeping the unique doubleheader in Race 2 last year, before crashing on lap 235. Prior to his crash, he hadn’t finished worse than sixth since that 2014 dash to second.

YearResultLaps Led
2020 – Race 15th68
2020 – Race 21st214
2022 – Race 11st208
2022 – Race 224th148
Newgarden’s performance since his third start and first top five at Iowa Speedway.

Looking through the rest of the field, drivers are struggling to match Newgarden’s performance. Second on the Iowa laps led leader board is Helio Castroneves with 644. In fact, Newgarden has led more than the next three drivers’ combined total on that list. His time out front account for 46% of his 3,211 total circuits run there. No current driver who has led the most laps at other events matches that percentage. Only Will Power (348 led / 1156 total laps) at the Indianapolis road course and Newgarden (149 / 490) at Road America are close to that mark, but only muster up to the 30% range.

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The Pit Straight: Guess Who's Back?

The multi-groove, high banked oval has suited Newgarden, and frustrated his competitors who have been unable to reel him in. Generally the racing has been entertaining across the field, it’s just that other drivers can’t seem to hit on the set up that beats him. Races he has lost are more due to circumstances than someone rising to the occasion to outperform him. Last year, Pato O’Ward was only able to capitalize on Newgarden’s misfortune when he crashed out, and a poorly timed yellow after a green flag stop in 2020 Race 1 forced the Penske driver to fall behind eventual winner Simon Pagenaud. Another win was lost in 2018 when traffic held Newgarden up and James Hinchcliffe got around. He then attempted to rebound by using the 2014 strategy during a late yellow to get fresh tires, but the race never returned to green.

Confidence has to be high for the Team Penske driver to get back to victory lane. And the race is coming at the perfect time for his 2023 season. He’s third in the championship, but like every other driver, trailing Alex Palou’s historic consistency. There are two wins to his record, one being the Indianapolis 500, but only two other top fives. Besides Iowa, Newgarden has run well at Gateway as well, another short oval, so the next few races are possibly his best opportunity to gain some ground.

If he can maintain his prior performance at the short oval deep in Iowa corn country, then the rest of the field will be trying to chase him down once again. And they’ll all be longing for the day in 2014, when the young American hadn’t quite put his racing boot down as the dominant force at Iowa Speedway.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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It will be interesting to see if Palou can improve on the ovals and continue his unrelenting beat-down on the series. Or will he fall apart as Newgarden springs back into contention with stellar performances and gained momentum from the ovals? No matter how it plays out, it will be exciting to watch!

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