Josef Newgarden challenged Ganassi and Penske, gets hired
by Robin Miller/LAT
"Roger is not going to hire anybody that's not ready to win a championship, But the past couple years Josef's shown he can do the job and now he's got the experience and the right mindset."
Timing is everything for a race driver. It wasn't right for Roger Penske and Josef Newgarden five years ago but today it looks like a perfect fit for The Captain, the kid and IndyCar's future.
When Newgarden interviewed with Tim Cindric, Rick Mears and R.P. in the fall of 2011 he was a wired 20-year-old undoubtedly a bit overwhelmed about his surroundings and why he was at Team Penske.
"Rick Gorne brought Josef to us after his Indy Lights championship and we've never hired anybody out of Indy Lights," said Cindric (pictured), the president of Team Penske the past 16 years who wasn't around yet when R.P. snatched up Paul Tracy after only one CART start in 1991.
"Roger is not going to hire anybody that's not ready to win a championship and Josef wasn't ready. But the past couple years he's shown he can do the job and now he's got the experience and the right mindset."
And one of the best rides in all of motorsports.
"To put it simply, it feels amazing and it's an amazing honor," said Newgarden (below), who will replace Juan Montoya in the team's No. 2. "As a relatively young guy in the sport, it's an amazing opportunity."
In hiring an American full-time for the first time in a decade (Sam Hornish Jr.) for an IndyCar seat, Cindric and Penske instantly made the team younger and more popular since Newgarden has a rapidly-growing fan base because of his personality and his abilities.
"It's been 10 years since Sam but that's not the reason we hired Josef," continued Cindric. "Obviously, it's a bonus for sure but we wanted somebody we could build on for the future. We've been keeping our eye on him."
Which has been easy to do since Newgarden has been running up front the past two years with ECR and Sarah Fisher's defunct team. He won three times and led the most laps (combined) of any driver in the Verizon IndyCar series in 2015 and 2016. He also showed some 1960s moxie by not missing a start and playing hurt after his massive accident at Texas last June.
"It's no different than when we signed Simon," said Cindric, referring to 2016 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud. "You have to decide if you're going to make a place for somebody like that or you're going to race against him for a while. So we figured he was better off being on our side than the other side."
The other side was one of the better stories in the paddock, from the growing pains and promise with Sarah and Wink Hartman on a one-car effort from 2012-'14 to Josef's breakout season in 2015 with Ed Carpenter and Fisher/Hartman joining forces.
Along with Graham Rahal the past two seasons, Newgarden upset the balance of power and challenged Ganassi and Penske at any track. Together with engineer Jeremy Milless, the gregarious kid from Tennessee became a bad ass and showed he deserved a chance with the best teams in the business.
But it wasn't as easy a decision as people might think. "It's a lot harder than people realize," exclaimed Newgarden at the Sonoma finale.
For starters, ECR was built around Josef and it had a great chemistry. He was the focal point and it was a relaxed, good-natured atmosphere. And I'm told his financial offer from Carpenter may have been better than The Captain's.
Now he's one of four spokes in the Big Wheel and it's a button-down, white shirt, black pants world at Team Penske – which always expects to win.
"But you don't turn down Roger Penske," said Ryan Hunter-Reay a few weeks ago before breaking into a grin since he did that very thing a few years ago to stay with Michael Andretti.
I've gone from non-stop tub thumping to get Penske and Cindric to hire Newgarden to changing my mind and wishing he'd stay at ECR because the team that finished 1-2-3 in the championship just got even stronger. But, to think about this American kid climbing through the ranks and having the best of everything with a chance to win Indy and championships, it's a great opportunity to get IndyCar more exposure and more fans.
It's the right time.
PRUETT: New development for Newgarden
Marshall Pruett / Images by IMS Photo, LAT
We work from the general belief that taking a young, race-winning driver like Josef Newgarden and exposing him to the full might of Team Penske will somehow transform the kid into an ass-kicking, championship-dominating machine.
If only it was that simple.
The Tennessean, who turns 26 in December, will indeed have access to every resource imaginable as the newest member of Penske's IndyCar empire. But as history suggests, delivering glory for the Captain will only happen after Newgarden makes a crucial mental transition.
After breaking into IndyCar with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing – Josef's equivalent of community college – and rising to the increased scholastic challenge with Ed Carpenter Racing, the blinding spotlight at Penske University has finally arrived. Gone are the gravy days of being an underdog where any amount of success was celebrated due to the long odds that were involved.
For Newgarden, years of safe and measured grooming at SFHR and ECR have been replaced with immediate pressure and unfathomable expectations. Or so it would appear from the outside.
"The way I see things in my lens, I agree, it is a lot like transferring college," Newgarden said. "People have asked me what it's like being around this type of group compared to my past teams, if the pressures are going to be different, if I feel a different responsibility. And I tell them it's really not that different. I mean, it really isn't. It is all the same stuff."
Months away from his first race alongside defending champion Simon Pagenaud, 2014 IndyCar title winner Will Power and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, adjusting to the new surroundings is first on Newgarden's priority list. Based on his experiences so far, it would appear Team Penske is working hard to smooth Newgarden's transition before the 2017 championship gets under way.
"You have a great responsibility that is bestowed upon you, both on and off the racetrack, and I haven't experienced much of the on-track portion, mostly just the off-track stuff," he said. "But, sure, there are different classes, if you will, there's different professors, but a lot of the workload is similar.
"A lot of what they expect from you, all of those pressures and all of those different things that they really require, feels similar. I feel the same demand, the same responsibility to uphold all of my tasks and responsibilities.
As one of IndyCar's most private programs, Newgarden didn't know what to expect once he was welcomed into the team's inner circle. His findings might come as a surprise.
"I think there's a perception on the outside of what Penske is like," he said. "What is their working environment like? No one knows unless you're there. I had no idea what type of chemistry the group has, or how comfortable the working environment would be. Those are all questions I certainly had from the outside, as I think a lot of people do. At least people who have never been there. And then I got to experience the reality myself.
"What I have been able to experience so far in the last month, it has been wonderful. Just my life with the team has been very, very easy. They work at such a high level and they have such a large scope throughout the whole organization. Yes, it is a lot to take in, and there's a lot of information to process. But at the same time, it is almost easy to integrate yourself because they have so many tools and so many things to help you integrate."
It's too early to judge how Newgarden will fare at Team Penske once the engines are lit, but the 2011 Indy Lights champion appears to be on the right path.
"I know it's on me to learn and get plugged into their approach to IndyCar; they're not expecting to have to teach me to do anything to fill in any gaps," he added. "There is absolutely no magic within the Verizon IndyCar Series. If you look at what we did at Ed Carpenter Racing this year, we took the fight to Penske. We were, at times, capable of being on their level and sometimes better than their level.
Cindric to call Newgarden's race strategy
RACER Staff / Image by IMS Photo
After five and a half years and a Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Will Power's pit stand, Tim Cindric is moving to call strategy for Team Penske's newest addition Josef Newgarden.
INDYCAR.com reports that Jon "Myron" Bouslog, Juan Pablo Montoya's strategist for the past two seasons, will move to Power's team. Team owner Roger Penske will continue as Helio Castroneves' strategist, as will Kyle Moyer for defending series champion Simon Pagenaud.
"As we look back, Will and I had a lot of good times but he will continue that without me," Cindric told INDYCAR.com. "Will has won no matter who is in his pit and I think it's important to understand the transition. As I looked at where our strengths are and where our experience is, Myron and I talked about it and thought we should switch this thing up a bit.
"If we don't get off on the right foot, at least we will understand why. I'm confident the No.12 car group will be just fine with or without me and the No.2 car group is in a good place, but I want to help his transition be the right one."
The Cindric-Power partnership produced 17 wins and 23 poles – numbers Newgarden says give the 12 team "a lot to stand on as a group."
"I'm excited to work with Tim," Newgarden said. "I respect him a lot within motorsports. He has done a great job with Team Penske. Look at the history with him being a team leader – they have a lot to stand on as a group.
"It's going to be exciting to work with him. I think he is a great leader and will probably help me be better at my craft and help me improve from what I've done in the past. I hope to collaborate well with him and the whole team on the No. 2 Verizon car and having success together."
Bouslog combined with Montoya for three wins, including the 2015 Indy 500. They also earned eight podiums and two poles together.
"I think I will learn a lot, to be honest with you," Bouslog said. "There are so many people involved in strategy during the race, you can't watch everything. There are so many eyes on it. It's going to be a collective team effort just like before. I think it's the right thing to do with a new driver in Josef. Tim knows how to handle the new drivers, the expectation level of the team. The best move is to do that for Josef so he has the best of everything to win."
02-03-2017 11:19 AM
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