Indy 500 the only major box left for Josef Newgarden to check off in IndyCar

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Josef Newgarden #2 of United States and Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Josef Newgarden #2 of United States and Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Now a two-time IndyCar champion, Josef Newgarden has one more major box to check off in his IndyCar career: winning the Indy 500.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is 2 for 2 as the driver of the #2 Chevrolet.

The 28-year-old Hendersonville, Tennessee native secured his second IndyCar championship in three seasons driving for Team Penske following a season he finished in fifth place in the championship standings as the reigning champion and driver of the #1 Chevrolet.

Newgarden held of teammate Simon Pagenaud, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon to secure this year’s title, doing so with a series-high four victories, seven podium finishes, a series-high 11 top five finishes, a series-high 14 top 10 finishes and a series-high 5.65 average finish throughout the 17-race season.

Newgarden became the first driver to win his second championship since Dario Franchitti pulled it off in his first season driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009. He also won the title just two seasons prior, as he won the 2007 championship driving for Andretti Autosport.

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Additionally, Newgarden became Team Penske’s first two-time champion since Gil de Ferran won his second title in the 2001 CART season.

Throughout the course of history, there have now been 26 drivers who have won at least two American open-wheel racing championships. Aside of Newgarden, 19 of these 25 drivers have something else in common.

They have all won the Indianapolis 500.

The only multi-time drivers who haven’t are four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais, three-time champion Ted Horn and two-time champions Rex Mays, Tony Bettenhausen, Joe Leonard and Alex Zanardi.

Newgarden also fits into this category.

Now a two-time champion, winning the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is really the only major box left to check for Newgarden, and at the age of 28, he should have quite a few more attempts to do so.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is statistically one of Newgarden’s worst race tracks. Of the 16 tracks on this year’s schedule, the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) oval in Speedway, Indiana has produced his 15th best average finish, an average finish of 15.75. The track’s road course is the only track that has produced a worse average finish for him at 15.83.

But as of late, Newgarden has been improving ever so steadily at the Brickyard. Over the last five years, his average finish there is 8.60 with just one finish outside of the top nine, and it is 6.00 over the last two with the new UAK18 aero package. He finished in a career-high third place in 2016 and fourth earlier this year.

Additionally, Newgarden won at two tracks this season where he had previously had next to no success: the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida and Texas Motor Speedway. You could even throw the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan into that discussion as a third.

The last time a driver (Franchitti) was crowned champion for a second time, he went on to win the Indy 500 the following year (2010). Franchitti is also still the most recent driver to win the Indy 500 and the IndyCar championship in the same season. Nine years in a row without this happening is tied for the longest drought since 15 years passed between the 1939 and 1955 seasons.

With Newgarden looking like the early championship favorite for next season in the hopes of becoming the first back-to-back champion since Franchitti (three consecutive titles from 2009 to 2011), he could very well end this drought and have his likeness put on the Borg-Warner Trophy to check off the one remaining major box in his career.

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The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 is set to be broadcast live from Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBC beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 24, 2020. Will Josef Newgarden win IndyCar‘s most prestigious race for the first time in what would be his ninth attempt?