Josef Newgarden had a weekend he will be hoping to forget in his first IndyCar race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an Indy 500 champion.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden leaves the Gallagher Grand Prix weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course looking forward to racing at one of his best tracks in World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway two weekends from now.
That’s about the one positive he can take away from this past weekend at the venue where he triumphed among a crowd of 350,000 on Memorial Day weekend.
Aside from his nasty crash at Texas Motor Speedway in 2016, his return to the Racing Capital of the World as an Indy 500 winner was probably the worst weekend of his IndyCar career.
He opened up the weekend by finishing the first practice session around the 13-turn, 2.439-mile (3.935-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana road course, where he won in October 2020, in 24th place. He went on to qualify in 19th and took a six-position grid penalty for an unapproved engine change.
Then he missed driver weigh-in and was docked 10 minutes of time in final practice, which he ironically ended in a weekend-best 14th place.
After starting the race in 25th place, he made it through six turns before being caught up in a multi-car pileup. The last moments before his No. 2 Chevrolet was re-fired were the last moments of the race during which he was on the lead lap.
He was officially penalized three times over the course of the next 10 laps. First, he was required to come into the pits on lap two to fix the damage to his race car. He was then penalized for receiving emergency service in a closed pit and also for receiving full service in a closed pit.
His two pit stop-related penalties included restarting at the back of the field and a drive-through following the restart, neither of which affected him all that much since his race was effectively over before it began.
He finished in 25th place and lost significant ground to championship leader Alex Palou. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had arguably his most lackluster race weekend of the season and finished in seventh, but Newgarden failed to capitalize.
After beginning the race weekend 84 points out of the lead, he sits 105 points back with only three races remaining on the 17-race IndyCar schedule.
Aside from the fact that he is probably out of contention to win his third IndyCar title this year, it’s still not far-fetched to say that Newgarden has at least somewhat put an end to what has become known as the Indy 500 “hangover” this year.
No Indy 500 winner has gone on to win the IndyCar championship in the same season since Dario Franchitti won both in 2010, and it probably won’t happen this year either.
But from 2011 to 2022, the Indy 500 winners only went on to win a combined three more races in the seasons during which they drank the milk. Ryan Hunter-Reay won one more in 2014, Will Power won one more in 2018, and Simon Pagenaud won one more in 2019.
Newgarden won two more in a 24-hour span during the doubleheader weekend at Iowa Speedway last month, bringing him to four wins this year. No Indy 500 winner had won more than two non-Indy 500 races in the same season since Scott Dixon in 2008.
So while Newgarden was hoping to avoid what he described as a “trap” by being okay with not winning the championship just because he won the Indy 500, the rest of his season has by no means been a disappointment.
The two-time series champion, who has finished runner-up in the championship standings behind three different drivers in each of the last three seasons, currently sits in third place in the standings after losing a spot to Dixon during this past race weekend.
As for the race weekend itself, it was just one of those weekends when absolutely nothing could go right. But in hindsight, Newgarden may be grateful that it happened now, with the championship already a bit out of reach, rather than next year, when he hopes to become the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since 2002 and the first driver to win both the Indy 500 and the IndyCar title since 2010.