IndyCar: Josef Newgarden must dig deep to avoid 'Indy 500 hangover'

It has been a very long time since an Indy 500 winner won the following IndyCar race, or even the IndyCar championship later in the year.
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500, IndyCar / Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY

Josef Newgarden is getting used to the whole "busy week" theme after an Indy 500 victory. He experienced it last year, and he has experienced it again this year after becoming the first back-to-back winner of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" since the now four-time winner Helio Castroneves won it in 2001 and 2002.

"Yeah, totally crazy," Newgarden told Beyond the Flag regarding his week so far, moments after ringing the Nasdaq Stock Market Opening Bell on Wednesday morning. "I went through it last year with everybody, so I sort of know, but it is nuts."

There haven't been many differences in 2024. Sleep is still not exactly high on the list of priorities, and neither is preparation for the following race.

"Both [years] just as difficult," stated the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. "And by difficult, I mean busy; it's a byproduct of this race. There's just such a significance to it, which is why we love it. It's why it's so difficult to win and get right. That's also why it's so gratifying and rewarding when you do get it right.

"So yeah, busy week we've been in – we're still in it. I'm going try to get to Detroit by tonight [Wednesday] and then hit the ground running again in the championship race."

Now his focus has turned to winning a third IndyCar championship.

After winning last year's Indy 500, Newgarden admitted that he did not want to fall victim to the "trap" of becoming complacent with his Indy 500 win. No Indy 500 winner has gone on to win the championship since Dario Franchitti in 2010, and that's despite the fact that the race was a double points race from 2014 to 2022.

There's also the infamous "Indy 500 hangover". Not since 2000 has the Indy 500 winner won the next race, and that happened with a caveat; Juan Pablo Montoya won the following weekend's CART race at the Milwaukee Mile.

No driver has won the Indy 500 and then the IndyCar race immediately afterward since Arie Luyendyk won the 1997 Indy 500 and then the following race at Texas Motor Speedway. Newgarden placed 10th in last year's race on the streets of Detroit, Michigan.

Having said that, Newgarden did become the first driver since Franchitti in 2010 to win multiple races later in the season after his Indy 500 victory last year. From 2011 to 2022, the Indy 500 winners only combined for three victories later in the year (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014, Will Power in 2018, and Simon Pagenaud in 2019).

But he still only finished in fifth place in the championship standings, matching his worst result since joining Team Penske in 2017.

He knows that it will be even tougher to battle for the title this year, given the tumultuous season he had had leading into the Indy 500.

If not for his disqualification from the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, Newgarden would be sitting in second place in the championship standings, four points behind Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou (179 to 175). Instead, he sits 61 points back (183 to 122) in seventh.

Although no Indy 500 winner has gone on to win the IndyCar championship in the same season in 14 years, Newgarden knows that the battle is far from over, with 12 of 17 points races remaining on the schedule.

"I think, look, it's early days, regardless of the win," he admitted. "I think it was early days leading into Indianapolis, and it's still early days leaving it.

"We got a lot of racing to do, and I think the bulk of the season is in the summer, and that's where you're going to really see where the championship runners shape up. I think we're well within the fight, where most of the field is. So that's just my viewpoint on it; it's so early."

There are indeed 11 drivers between 49 and 96 points out of the championship lead through five races on the schedule, so one good – or bad – race for anybody could really shake things up.

One thing that could play to Newgarden's advantage is the fact that the schedule's final eight races consist of six oval races, including doubleheaders at two short tracks: Iowa Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile. In the first 12 years of his IndyCar career, there were never more than six oval races on the entire schedule.

The other oval races are scheduled to take place at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, where he is a four-time winner, and Nashville Superspeedway, which is effectively his home track after the race was relocated from the downtown city streets.

Newgarden is a two-time series oval champion, and he has won six of the last seven oval races going back to the Gateway race in 2022. He also basically owns Iowa Speedway, where he is a six-time winner and has won every year it has been on the calendar since 2019. He swept the races last year and would have done so in 2022 if not for a late shock failure in race number two.

"I think it certainly has played to our recent strengths," Newgarden said of the oval portion of the remaining schedule. "But trends change quickly. I think we have to make sure we're still strong on ovals. There are going to be track changes at Iowa, which we're going to have to deal with."

The remaining schedule also consists of two street course races, where Newgarden believes he'll be strong, but it also consists of four road course races.

"We’re going to have to figure out the road and street courses," he admitted. "I think we've got a great street course car, as evidenced by St. Pete, and certainly Long Beach. We had another opportunity I think to convert a win, so I have high hopes for Detroit and Toronto."

Even with the St. Petersburg controversy, Newgarden did indeed have the car to beat. His chance to win at Long Beach went away after his inability to pass Scott Dixon led to rear contact from Colton Herta, which dropped him from second to fourth place in the closing laps.

In two starts so far this season at road courses where he has a combined four previous victories, Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, he did not secure a single top 15 finish, so it's clear that an improvement at these venues is needed.

"The road courses are probably the one area where personally, and then on the No. 2 team, I think we need to convert a little bit better," he said. "If we can do that, then we should be in the fight."

Newgarden is, however, a two-time winner at both Road America and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, two of the remaining four road courses on this year's schedule. He has also finished as high as second place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and has never finished outside of the top 10 in five starts at Portland International Raceway.

For Newgarden, it's all about putting everything together and establishing a type of consistency that has eluded him since he won his most recent championship in 2019. It has been almost two years since he (officially) won at a track featuring any right turns.

"It's going to take more than just success on ovals," he concluded.

Next. Indy 500: Josef Newgarden praises 'champion of the speedway'. Indy 500: Josef Newgarden praises 'champion of the speedway'. dark

The post-Indy 500 portion of the 2024 IndyCar schedule is set to begin with 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 it!