Josef Newgarden has established himself as IndyCar’s top oval driver. But even he didn’t realize just how dominant he has been.
Even before his last-lap pass on reigning Indy 500 champion Marcus Ericsson to win the 107th running of the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past Sunday afternoon, nobody had been better on IndyCar oval races than Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Newgarden entered the Indy 500 with five wins in the last seven oval races, and it would have been six out of seven if not for a fluke shock failure when he was on his way to sweepint the Iowa Speedway doubleheader last July.
Aside from the Iowa crash, his only non-win during that stretch came in last year’s Indy 500, which he finished in 13th place. And it was his 12th place effort in the 2021 Indy 500 which was the final race before this Formula 1-esque streak started. At each of the other three oval tracks on the calendar, he has won three times since 2019 alone.
He didn’t win the 2021 or the 2022 IndyCar oval championship, but that was because the Indy 500 was a double points race.
It was Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward who won it both years. O’Ward finished in fourth and second place in the 2021 and 2022 Indy 500, respectively.
With his win in this year’s Indy 500, Newgarden has now won six of the last eight oval races, and he is two for two to start the year, having won at Texas Motor Speedway back in early April. His oval win streak sits at three, and it would be sitting at five if not for the Iowa shock failure.
Newgarden himself didn’t even realize just how dominant he has been on tracks with exclusively left turns, but he was happy to hear it.
“Oh my gosh – I didn’t even know that was like – that’s a crazy stat!” the newest Indy 500 champion exclaimed to Beyond the Flag. “Wow. I didn’t realize it was – like, I knew we won a lot of ovals recently, but I didn’t think it was that many in a row. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to harp on that. I just – that’s a cool stat!”
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that 13 of Newgarden’s 27 career wins are oval wins, despite the fact that ovals only make up a very small percentage of the schedule these days.
So we asked IndyCar’s oval ace which oval or ovals he would like to see added to the series schedule in the near future.
“I would love to add Milwaukee,” Newgarden said. “I think the Milwaukee Mile was a tremendous track for IndyCar. It’s obviously got great IndyCar DNA.”
The Milwaukee Mile has been rumored as a potential venue for an IndyCar comeback in 2024. It hasn’t been on the schedule since 2015.
But Newgarden didn’t stop there.
“And then really any other short ovals, I’m a big fan of [those],” he continued. “So like a Richmond, which we were trying to go to three or four years ago, I would love to see us head back there.”
Richmond Raceway was scheduled to host a race in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It didn’t host a race in 2020, and it didn’t return to the schedule post-2020 either.
He also mentioned that he enjoyed running at Auto Club Speedway, which, like the Milwaukee Mile, was axed from the calendar after 2015.
“Fontana, I felt a little bit sad to leave that place because it was an incredible race to drive, and unfortunately we stopped running that track, but yeah,” Newgarden said.
Auto Club Speedway is set to be reconfigured into a short track with the goal of hosting NASCAR races again in 2025. But perhaps that would pique Newgarden’s interest even more, given his love of short tracks.
“Short ovals, easy highlight for me on the list, but there are many,” he concluded. “Fontana would be up there too.”