Prior to Josef Newgarden, Penske’s last
American champion was Sam Hornish, Jr. in
2006. Hornish managed to win the Indy 500
that same year – an achievement that
remains unfinished business for Newgarden.
Simon Pagenaud did not surrender
the No.1 to his Penske teammate easily.
If Josef Newgarden’s robust pass on the
2016 champion at Gateway was the
most visceral symbol of his title
ambitions, Pagenaud’s out lap for the
final stint at Sonoma will stand as the
ultimate representation of how deep he
was willing to dig to defend his crown.
Pagenaud opted for a four-stopper,
which Team Penske was keen to deploy
somewhere within its fleet as insurance
against all four of its cars being derailed
by an inopportune yellow. That caution
never came, but Pagenaud was still able
to make the strategy work. He made his
final stop two laps later than Newgarden
– and popped out ahead.
Pagenaud was on new blacks, while
Newgarden was on stickered reds,
which should have given the latter an
advantage. Newgarden knew it, too,
and the urgency with which he tried
to capitalize on it, despite not needing
the win to secure the title, was the
most thrilling moment of the finale.
It took a few words from Tim Cindric
over the radio to convince Newgarden
that he’d be best served letting
rationality override his racer’s
instincts, but by that point Pagenaud
had already rebuffed him. Twice.
“When I blocked in Turn 7 and I saw
[Newgarden] diving, I’m like, ‘Dude,
be careful,’” Pagenaud recounted.
“Especially at that time. If he had a
problem, I’m leading the race, I’m the
champion again. I knew we couldn’t
do anything stupid, but it was more
comfortable for me than it was for
him, I’m assuming. It was a good fight.”
Simon Pagenaud defended his
title right down to the final laps.
NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT
corresponding increase in pressure to
perform. Newgarden admits that the title
was on his mind from the moment he
arrived. “Maybe not fighting for the
championship in terms of being one of the
top guys going for it [at the end], but we
had to be in that conversation to some
degree,” he says. “Otherwise people are
going to start questioning what I’m doing.”
But he doesn’t buy into the idea that
the day-to-day pressure at Team Penske is
different to anywhere else.
“I’m not going to dance around it;
there’s definitely pressure,” he says.
“But that has always existed. If you want
to have a race seat and be paid as a
professional driver, you’ve gotta deliver.
That’s how racing works.”
Safe to say the 26-year-old doesn’t
have to worry about that any time soon.
His off-season plans don’t extend much
beyond visiting his mother’s side of his
family in Denmark, and a championship
has granted him the luxury of being able
to switch off and fully enjoy his downtime
“I used go to Denmark all the time, and I
haven’t been there in eight, 10 years,” he
says. “So I want to go there and see my
family again. That will be really fun. And
this off-season, it will be easier to focus on
things like that, and just enjoy them.”
It’s not hard to spot the pattern in Newgarden’s
IndyCar career results: his numbers have
improved in almost every category, every year.
(ABOVE) Job done, but in
Sonoma’s Victory Lane it was
yet to sink in... (OPPOSI TE
PAGE, clockwise from TOP
LEFT) Toronto sparked a
streak that put Newgarden
in command; The Captain
celebrates with his latest
champion; the No. 2 crew
– Penske-perfect; teammates
confer – it’s the Penske way.
Simon Pagenaud’s fans came for the talent
and speed – and stayed for the hula hoops.
trying to conserve energy. If people saw it
they’d be like, ‘Are you taking this
seriously?’ It’s got nothing to do with that.
I just need to make sure that when I have
to go, I can give it as much as I have.”
Conventional wisdom holds that a move
from a team that can fight for race wins to
a team that expects them translates into a
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SARAH FISHER HARTMAN RACING
ED CARPENTER RACING