Indy 500: Josef Newgarden aiming to avoid IndyCar ‘trap’

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Josef Newgarden may have won the 107th running of the Indy 500, but he knows that there is still an IndyCar championship to win.

No IndyCar driver has won both the Indy 500 and the championship in the same season since 2010, despite the fact that a majority of the Indy 500 winners — and a majority of the IndyCar champions — during that span have won both at some point during their careers.

The fact that the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was a double points race from 2014 to 2022 makes this 12-year drought even more surprising.

Josef Newgarden, a two-time series champion, is aiming to become the first Indy 500 winner to win the IndyCar championship in the same year since Dario Franchitti in 2010. With the Indy 500 no longer a double points race, it is slightly more difficult. But it is certainly doable.

Just days after winning the 107th running of the Indy 500, Josef Newgarden already has his sights set on becoming a three-time IndyCar champion.

He admitted that he is hoping to avoid the “Indy 500 hangover” that drivers seem to get after winning the biggest race in the world.

Not since 2000 has the Indy 500 champion won the race immediately after the Indy 500, when Juan Pablo Montoya won at the Milwaukee Mile.

Not since 2019 has the Indy 500 champion won any other IndyCar race post-Indy 500, when Simon Pagenaud went on to win on the streets of Toronto. From 2011 to 2022, Indy 500 champions won a combined three races post-Indy 500.

That’s it.

“All I’m focused on right now is how do we not have the Indy 500 hangover that everybody sort of gets, if you go to Detroit and you’re just like in the haze still and you don’t have a good weekend,” Newgarden told Beyond the Flag.

While winning the Indy 500 is the highlight of his career, he wants to avoid falling into the “trap” of becoming complacent.

Indy 500 champion Josef Newgarden still has a third IndyCar championship he is trying to win.

“I don’t want to fall into the trap where if you don’t win the championship, it’s kind of an okay year because you won the 500,” Newgarden explained. “People kind of rest on that, and I don’t want to get comfortable in that situation. I really want us to focus on how we get both done. So yeah, it would be amazing if it shapes up.”

Newgarden, who won a series-high five races last year en route to a third straight runner-up finish in the championship standings, is the only driver with two wins through six races this season. He sits in fourth place in the standings, 37 points behind leader Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Having said that, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the focus is completely on the Indy 500. It is the one race of the year during which the championship is secondary, if even that.

“I think yes and no,” Newgarden responded when asked if he even allows himself to think about the championship during the Indy 500.

“They removed double points this year from the race, which was around for a short while, and I think it’s come back to a good place where everyone treats Indy as really a make or break for a win. You’re either winning the race or you didn’t win the race.

“That’s not how you treat every event on the calendar. I think Indy stands on its own in that regard, that it’s the Indy 500, and you’ve got to do everything you can to win the race, and you’re not thinking or focused on the championship whatsoever. And that’s kind of how I felt this year; I think that’s the mentality you have to have if you want to win that race.”

Newgarden has taken the No. 1 for his Chevrolet as the reigning champion in both 2018 and 2020, though his two titles in 2017 and 2019 came with the No. 2 on his car.

The Indy 500 has now been won by a car with an even number for 10 consecutive years. Not since Tony Kanaan won it in his No. 11 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet has an odd numbered car won the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.

Newgarden would not commit to running the No. 1 Chevrolet next year if he is able to become the first Indy 500 winner to win the IndyCar championship in the same year since Dario Franchitti in 2010.

“Yeah, I have no idea; I have no idea,” he admitted. “I hope it works out this year!”

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There are 11 races remaining on the 17-race 2023 IndyCar schedule.