Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Newgarden Enters 2022 Season with New Engineer, Same Confident Mindset

Josef Newgarden prepares for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season.
Josef Newgarden comes into the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season as a championship runner-up each of the past two years. Image courtesy of Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment

The current talent level up and down the grid in the NTT IndyCar Series is ridiculous.

Like, it’s really damn good. 

There’s a ripe combination of youth versus experience, with both unafraid and unapologetic to do whatever it takes to win.

Somewhere in the middle of those generational gaps is two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. 

The 31-year-old Tennessee native might as well be nicknamed ‘The Benchmark’ for his innate ability to be the guy anyone with championship aspirations has to run through. No one has been more consistent than Newgarden the last six seasons and, if not for Scott Dixon and Alex Palou the past two years, he could very well already be a four-time title-holder in North America’s premier open-wheel championship.

Since taking the reins No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet in 2017, Newgarden has finished within the top two of the final standings four times. A fifth-place result in 2018 stands as the current outlier. In 2016, his final year driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, he drove to fourth in the championship despite suffering a fractured right hand and broken clavicle roughly halfway through the season. 

As for last year, Newgarden was forced to crawl out of a 23rd-place hole at the season-opener at Barber Motorsports Park. It became a chasing game from there as he battled back into contention with three runner-up finishes over the next seven races before finding Victory Lane on the Fourth of July at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Another win at World Wide Technology Raceway followed by his fourth runner-up finish of the year at the finale on the Streets of Long Beach weren’t enough, though, to overcome two results outside the top 20, with one of those a mechanical issue while leading in the late stages at Road America. 

Knowing how they were on pace throughout last year, there weren’t any glaring issues that needed extra attention over the offseason. Instead, it seems the theme is “better execution” for Newgarden and Co. entering 2022, beginning at this weekend’s season-opener with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (noon ET, on NBC).

“That is a really tough one to answer. I don’t think we were deficient in any one area – or areas – last year,” Newgarden told TobyChristie.com. “We could have won one or two more races with just better execution, or luck. Obviously, the Indianapolis 500 is circled every year when you race for Team Penske, and I haven’t won it yet. That’s always a focus and I feel like we make strides every year in finally winning it.”

There is one significant change, though, with Eric Leichtle replacing Gavin Ward as Newgarden’s race engineer atop the timing stand. Leichtle comes over after working as an IndyCar program manager over the past decade with Pratt & Miller Engineering, a firm that supports Chevrolet’s race engineering and special projects for its IndyCar endeavors. Ward, who helped navigate Newgarden to the 2019 title, departed to Arrow McLaren SP over the offseason. 

“It will certainly be different with a new face on the timing stand, but Eric is familiar with our team,” Newgarden said. “He was heavily involved with us while he was with Chevrolet, so it won’t be a huge learning curve. The offseason testing was great for working on our communication and just getting to know each other better. For sure, having St. Pete as our first race together helps because we have a good baseline already. I’m confident we can come out of the gates strong.”

There will also likely be less discussions in debriefs and setup meetings with the departure of Simon Pagenaud – to Meyer Shank Racing – as Team Penske downsized from four cars to three.

“Having a fourth car definitely gives you more options and more things to try during a test or a practice session, no doubt,” added Newgarden. “One thing about Team Penske, though, is our engineers and mechanics do a great job in pre-race preparation, and you rarely need to go in four separate directions on setups. Going back down to three cars – and I have experience with Team Penske at three – maybe hones the focus more. That can be a positive.”



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