Josef Newgarden had plenty of changes to wrangle at the start of the 2023 IndyCar season. His former engineer Eric Leichtle moved on to SpaceX and was replaced by Luke Mason. Then Newgarden brought his No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet to the streets of St. Petersburg and did not have a great season debut. That made expectations even higher in Texas, where Newgarden had won the 2022 race. He needed a strong result, and he got one—beating out McLaren’s Pato O’Ward for his second consecutive victory.
After winning the PPG 375, Newgarden spoke openly about his crew changes, the changes to Texas Motor Speedway that led to a thrilling final act of the race, and what it meant to get his first win of the season, which jumped him more than a dozen places up the championship ladder.
“I just want to see Texas race the way it should race. I think most people would look at today and say that’s how Texas should race,” he reflected. “Three-wide the entire time, I wouldn’t want to see that. I think you can go too far nowadays. I really like high tire [degradation]. I like when people come and go and you’ve got to work your advantage. You’ve really got to work to try to keep the car underneath you.
“We’re kind of a step above where I like to see the cars at,” Newgarden continued. “I know from an entertainment standpoint this had to be significantly better than last year. It just had to be. It felt packed up for most of the race and definitely at the end. Where we go from here, it’s hard to say. Old Texas is hard to beat. The configuration was great. The track surface was better for us; we could run all three lanes. I’d like to see that back, then we can start peeling off downforce off the cars.
“If you go and try and find that again, we might not get it right…We’ve had the product we’ve had, at least as far as the track. We’ve just chipped away at it. By this year we’ve gotten it really good.”
Asked if the changes on the No. 2 Team Penske roster created any uncertainty, particularly after the way things didn’t go at St. Petersburg, Newgarden said, “Not as far as the crew. I can tell you that. I don’t care—I’ll say that, it doesn’t bug me.
“Every year there’s a reset, personally,” he elaborated. “When you sit out for six months, you start to think Okay, do I still believe we can do what we were doing last year? I knew exactly where we were last year, what we were capable of. I said some statements toward the end of the year. These were not grandiose statements, they were what I thought was possible on the 2 car. [With] six months in an off-season you start to think if that’s true. If we’re still capable of that.
“Leaving St. Pete, it’s always natural to have those thoughts. I was ready to get here to Texas and get on the board, as I say. Today is very validating for stuff like that. It just validates my self-positivity, but also affirms what I felt about the team. I know how good the people on the 2 car are. Doesn’t matter that they’re new. I know who’s on it [and] what they’re capable of.”
Now Newgarden and his team head to Long Beach, where he’s also won in the past. Yet while he now has the momentum, he’s not going to relax over the next two weeks. “You can’t take anything for granted. It’s very easy for this championship to swing one weekend to the next,” he insisted. “It’s entirely possible we go to Long Beach and have a tough weekend. That can happen.
“I think we have to focus on having good, clean weekends going forward. Everybody knows the game in here. It’s a game of averages when you look across the championship. And we have to be the best at that.”
The 2023 IndyCar season continues Sunday, April 16 with the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Featured photo credit: Joe Skibinski/Courtesy of IndyCar.
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