Josef Newgarden has to be liking what he is seeing when it comes to the 2024 IndyCar schedule, which features five short oval races.
Texas Motor Speedway, where Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is the two-time reigning winner and three-time overall winner, might have been removed from the IndyCar schedule for the first time since IndyCar’s first full season in 1997, but its replacement is another historic oval track that hasn’t been on the series schedule since 2015.
IndyCar is set to return to the Milwaukee Mile for the first time in nine years next year, and with the second Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race having also been axed from the calendar, the series’ return to Milwaukee is set to be a doubleheader. Coupled with the annual trip to Road America, three of 17 races on the 2024 schedule are set to be contested in Wisconsin.
And coupled with the Iowa Speedway doubleheader and the race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, nearly one-third of next year’s schedule consists of short oval races, including the long-awaited return of two night races at Iowa and Gateway.
Newgarden has been the series’ best oval driver in recent years, winning five races in a row at one point from 2022 to 2023.
But more specifically, he has thrived in IndyCar short oval races.
Could the fact that five races at such tracks are on next year’s schedule, up from three in 2022 and 2023, make the two-time champion the favorite to dethrone Chip Ganassi Racing’s two-time champion Alex Palou and win his first title since 2019?
Newgarden has led more than 100 laps at Iowa, where he is a six-time winner, in 10 of his last 12 starts there, and he would be riding a five-race winning streak at the track if not for a late shock failure in the second race of the 2022 doubleheader.
He led more than 200 laps in seven of those races and hasn’t finished a season winless at the track (excluding its 2021 absence from the schedule) since 2018.
At Gateway, Newgarden is a four-time winner, though he did see his three-race winning streak end with a late unforced error in this year’s race. Interestingly, two of his four wins there came in night races, and those are the two starts in which he led more than half of the laps.
It’s not exactly like Newgarden has lit the world on fire at Milwaukee like he has done at literally every other short oval he has driven, but the series also hasn’t been there since 2015, when he was still two years removed from his first race with Roger Penske’s team.
And with two top five finishes in four starts, it must be said that the four-turn, 1.015-mile (1.633-kilometer) West Allis oval was still one of Newgarden’s best tracks during his time competing for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and CFH Racing. He led 109 of 250 laps from the pole position in 2015, 109 laps that contributed to what was surprisingly a series-high total that year.
There will surely be drivers other than Newgarden and Palou challenging for the title — Scott Dixon, Pato O’Ward, and Scott McLaughlin to name just a few — but the reigning Indy 500 winner has to be liking what he is seeing as far as next year’s schedule is concerned.
Palou, of course, has to be feeling the same way, given the fact that he didn’t finish a single race lower than eighth place (a first since 1922) in 2023, but it will definitely be a challenge for him to lock up another title before the finale, which he did in 2023 to end a 17-year streak of the championship coming down to the wire.