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Champion Newgarden Shows Wisdom while Waiting Turn to Triumph at Indy

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its historic 2.5-mile oval doesn’t owe anything to anyone. It didn’t owe Ray Harroun that win in 1911, nor did it owe Simon Pagenaud his 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory.

And as far as Josef Newgarden is concerned, it certainly doesn’t owe him anything.

Newgarden, the newly crowned NTT IndyCar Series champion, has accomplished much in his relatively young INDYCAR career. The one box the two-time series champion still needs to check off is the Indianapolis 500.

However, Newgarden is taking it all in stride. It doesn’t frustrate him that his name is etched on the Astor Cup twice, but his face is not yet on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Nor does it frustrate him that his teammate’s victories in the last two Indianapolis 500’s have left him as the lone Team Penske driver without an Indy 500 win.

As they say, patience is a virtue.

“I’ve come to peace with the fact that this place doesn’t owe you anything,” he said. “You’re never guaranteed anything around this track. There’s a lot of really deserving drivers that probably should have won this race and they never did, and that’s the way it works. You can go your whole career and you never know if it’s going to work out here. I’m at peace with that.”

Drivers often talk about how much respect they must give the racetrack to succeed. For Newgarden, the best way to give the 110-year-old IMS respect is by acknowledging the very fact that it owes you nothing.

“The only thing you can do is give your best effort, try to make it happen and give the place respect and put in the work,” he said. “That doesn’t guarantee a victory, and you’ve got to know that in your career that it’s never guaranteed. I think that’s why you see the emotion when someone wins. It’s a really big deal.”

Newgarden has enjoyed success at Indy. In 2011, he won the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. In eight Indianapolis 500 starts, he has led 38 laps and has four top-10 finishes.

His best race came at the 100th Running in 2016 while driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. He qualified second, led 14 laps and finished a career-best third.

He has entered the Indianapolis 500 three times under the Team Penske banner, and this past May was his best showing from start to finish. He paced the second practice session of the month and was second fastest on Miller Lite Carb Day. He qualified eighth, led 21 laps and finished fourth in the race.

Newgarden said his successful May in 2019 gives him confidence as he looks toward the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 24, 2020. He has put together four straight years of solid performance at Indy, and he isn’t ready to change a thing.

“It’s all about putting yourself in position toward the end of that race and working all month long to build a good race car and getting through the first part of the race to put yourself in position at the end,” he said. “I think the more years you do that, the more years you give yourself an opportunity, the more chance there is that it’s going to pay off. It’s going to work out one of those years. That’s how I approach it. I hope it works out one year.”

He pointed to his Team Penske teammate Will Power, who had to wait 11 starts until he visited Victory Lane at IMS in 2018, as proof that, in due time, the success at Indy will come.

Newgarden also looked to teammate Simon Pagenaud’s 2019 victory for the importance of being in contention at the end. Newgarden lined up fourth on the final restart with 13 laps to go, but he was passed by 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato on the restart and failed to keep up with the leaders.

“(Pagenaud) was in it, and he found his way out,” he said. “Now, the job’s on me. I’ve got to find my way out. That’s our thought process and how we approach it, but there’s no guarantees. IMS, this hallowed ground, it doesn’t always shine on you that day, and you just hope one day it will.”

Don’t mistake his patience for a lack of passion. Newgarden said it would mean the world to him to conquer Indianapolis. But with age comes wisdom, and at age 28, maybe he’s just wise beyond his years.

He has high hopes that he’ll find his way out in 2020. But if he doesn’t, that’s fine. He will leave Indianapolis at peace knowing that the Speedway owed him nothing in the first place, and he’ll wait another year and hope it works out for him.

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