Indy 500 champion not worried about 'keeping receipts'

Josef Newgarden is well past the point of caring about what is said, written, or speculated about him. He proved it with a second consecutive Indy 500 win.
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, IndyCar / James Gilbert/GettyImages

If you're one of the individuals who believes everything you read on the internet, you might have entered the month of May thinking that Team Penske's Josef Newgarden had already been defeated, even before practice for the 108th running of the Indy 500 got underway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The two-time IndyCar champion and reigning Indy 500 winner opened up the 2024 season with a resounding victory on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and he nearly won the season's second race on the streets of Long Beach, California to retain the points lead heading to Barber Motorsports Park, where he is a three-time winner.

But after the Long Beach race, it was revealed that Team Penske had exploited a loophole involving the push-to-pass overtake system in St. Petersburg.

Six and a half weeks later, Newgarden was revealed to have been a three-time offender and was disqualified, stripping him of his win and handing it to Arrow McLaren's Pato O'Ward. Teammate Scott McLaughlin, a one-time offender, was also stripped of his third place finish.

Teammate Will Power was promoted from fourth to second place, as he did not commit a violation, but he was stripped of 10 points to ensure that Team Penske had no way of benefitting from the scandal. It ended up being a net loss of two points for the 2018 Indy 500 winner and two-time series champion.

As a result, Newgarden fell outside of the top 10 in the championship standings, and he plummeted further down the order with a rough outing at Barber, which culminated in a 16th place finish. He fell even further with his 17th place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, despite starting on the second row.

From March 11 to May 11, he gained a net total of seven points, the equivalent of a single 23rd place finish.

It didn't matter that he faced the media head-on, instead of putting out some PR-concocted statement with a half-baked excuse to avoid addressing the scandal.

He was still criticized, and it was said that the fallout from the push-to-pass scandal was "in his head".

It didn't matter that, believe it or not, his story actually did line up – perfectly – with the additional hard, tangible evidence uncovered during the Long Beach weekend, even though his account of the entire debacle didn't perfectly align with those of his teammates.

Bottom line, it was obvious that there was no cover-up on the driver side.

Yet several attempts were still made to diminish some of his other IndyCar achievements, and even some of his achievements in other forms of motorsport. It borderlined on a smear campaign.

Those who wanted to believe he was a cheater and a liar were, quite simply, set on believing he was a cheater and a liar.

While fighting back tears, he gave explicit verbal permission to pretty much everybody to call him "every name in the book" – call him an "idiot", call him "stupid", call him "incompetent", or even call him an "asshole".

Now you can call him a two-time Indy 500 champion.

Newgarden certainly would have had plenty of motivation if he were the type of athlete to "keep receipts", given the wide range of things said, written, speculated, etc., about him over the last month or so.

But just as he alluded to in the moments after his second straight Indy 500 win, the 33-year-old truly doesn't care about any of the outside noise, and instead of carrying a chip on his shoulder, he is focused on what and who matter to him.

It's a strategy that has worked for other elite drivers when faced with criticism in the past, and coming off of a second consecutive last lap pass for an Indy 500 win, something that had only happened twice in the first 106 editions of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing", it's pretty clear that it worked for the Hendersonville, Tennessee native as well.

Apparently talk truly is quite cheap.

"I think I just stay focused on what's in my control, and that's the biggest thing for all of us on our team," Newgarden told Beyond the Flag after becoming the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since the now four-time winner Helio Castroneves won it in 2001 and 2002.

Newgarden passed Marcus Ericsson heading into turn three of the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval on lap 200 in 2023, and he passed Pato O'Ward in turn three on lap 200 in 2024.

"We're just working together to do what we do best, and I think we really got back to that for the Indianapolis 500," he stated. "I think there was a lot of evidence of it, when you see us locking out the front row."

Newgarden's front row start on the outside of his teammates was his first with Team Penske in eight attempts, though he did start in the middle of row one for Ed Carpenter Racing back in 2016.

"That, to me, was us focused forward as a team and focusing on ourselves, and then we did that in the race too, and we executed it perfectly as a team, I thought," he continued. "So that's my motivation; that's my positioning mentally going forward within this championship."

But there's no doubt that ignoring that kind of outside noise has been a challenge. Fortunately for the Indy 500's sixth ever back-to-back winner, he got a bit of a head start by unfollowing everybody on social media before the season began.

While the push-to-pass situation itself was serious enough to nearly bring Newgarden to tears when he faced the media for the first time after it was made public, he admitted that he is a bit amused by the irony of Rick Mears, the 72-year-old Team Penske legend and four-time Indy 500 winner who remains a team advisor to this day, moving up the all-time IndyCar wins list in April 2024.

With his second Indy 500 win, which was version two of career win number 30, Newgarden passed Mears for 13th place for the second time in three months.

He is now one win shy of a tie for 10th on that list.

"Yeah, funny how that's happened!" Newgarden admitted. "But yeah, it's just been unbelievable, the journey I've been able to have and what I've been given by individuals around me. [I'm] really, really thankful for it."

Next. IndyCar driver returning for first appearance in seven years. IndyCar driver returning for first appearance in seven years. dark

The next race on the 2024 IndyCar schedule is the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, which is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from the streets of Detroit, Michigan beginning at 12:00 p.m. ET this Sunday, June 2. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss any of the action!