IndyCar: Telling Josef Newgarden evidence implies an intriguing reality

The idea that Josef Newgarden may be telling the truth has been questioned by pretty much everybody in IndyCar. But now it's time for the real questions, starting with this one: is he really just a major scapegoat?
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, IndyCar / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

IndyCar shocked the world last Wednesday when they announced that they had disqualified Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin from the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, which had taken place 45 days prior, due to their illegal usage of the push-to-pass system.

Newgarden was the initial winner of the race while McLaughlin finished in third place. As a result, Arrow McLaren's Pato O'Ward became the winner, with Team Penske's Will Power moving from fourth to second and Andretti Global's Colton Herta moving onto the "podium" from fifth.

Power was also docked 10 points, but he did not commit a violation; the penalty was likely issued just to prevent anybody within the Team Penske organization from benefitting in any way from this scandal. It ended up only resulting in a net loss of two points for the driver of the No. 12 Chevrolet since he gained eight points from the disqualifications of his teammates.

Newgarden faces criticism, but claims stack up

Newgarden did not put out a statement about the situation like McLaughlin and Power did, instead opting to address the media and take questions head-on this past Friday ahead of the race weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

He admitted to the breach, which occurred on three different occasions for a total of nine seconds throughout the St. Petersburg restarts, but he stated that he had no idea that what he was doing was against the rules until it emerged six weeks later during the Long Beach race weekend. He was not made aware until afterward.

McLaughlin only hit the button once out of habit for 1.9 seconds, while Power knew the rules, which have been in place for Newgarden's entire 13-year IndyCar career, and didn't hit it at all.

The breach only emerged due to a fluke system outage during morning warm-up in Long Beach, which revealed that Team Penske retained illegal access to push-to-pass when everybody else was locked out during the start and restarts.

It meant that they theoretically could have used it again in Long Beach, at Barber, and for as long as it was left undetected.

And it wasn't just any team. It was Team Penske, Penske as in "Penske Perfect".

Newgarden stated that he had been under the impression that nobody else was under: that the changes to the push-to-pass rules for the exhibition race at Thermal Club, which didn't take place until two weeks after the season opener, had been implemented for the entire season -- but only on restarts.

He admitted that his explanation was almost "too convenient to be believable", but while fighting back tears, came out and denied the assertion that he is a "liar", all while telling the media that they could call him any other name they'd like.

To this day, he has not spoken to any of his competitors, and as we saw on the race track at Barber, nobody is doing him any favors.

He finished in 16th place after an eventful day which saw him start eighth, and he dropped from 11th into a 15th place tie in the championship standings. This time last week, he was the points leader.

Newgarden a scapegoat?

While Herta's assertion that Newgarden's claims are a lie because he didn't use it on the start when it would have made more sense due to everybody being stacked up, that doesn't paint the full picture.

Sure, using it during the start would indeed have stuck out like a sore thumb. So any driver intentionally trying to manipulate the system to cheat would have logically tried to hide it when it would have been most obvious and thus not used it during the start of the race.

But Newgarden only ever alluded to using it on restarts. The Thermal Club rule changes included both starts and restarts, but his belief was clearly that the change made for the points races was only for restarts.

"The key difference on the No. 2 car, which is important to understand, is that somehow, some way, we convinced ourselves that there was a rule change to restarts specifically with overtake usage," Newgarden told the media, including Beyond the Flag.

On paper, that belief would indeed appear to be "too convenient to be believable". But there is evidence, which we'll get more into below, that goes beyond him simply claiming this to be his belief.

Various media outlets have added "[starts and]" to this quote. That is not what Newgarden stated at any point in time during this press conference, and it is simply inaccurate context. He even emphasized it was specifically for restarts, in order to avoid this confusion.

But here's where things get interesting and, for all intents and purposes, do more to back up Newgarden's claims than anything else.

He also alluded to his comments on team radio during the race at Long Beach, when he was concerned that the button wasn't working. At that point, the breach had been discovered and corrected by IndyCar so that it couldn't happen again, but Newgarden didn't know it.

"I tried to do the exact same thing leading the race at Long Beach," he told the media. "I even pushed the button. I came over the radio, I said, 'hey, guys, the overtake is not working correctly.' I said it throughout the whole first lap."

Yes, he said "first lap", but he wasn't the leader during the race's first lap. He is clearly, once again, referencing a restart.

Newgarden vehemently denied trying to "pull one over" on anybody at St. Petersburg. Knowing how easy it is to monitor radio communications, no driver would knowingly ask his team a question that basically amounts to, "hey guys, why am I not able to cheat?"

That would stick out like a sore thumb a lot more so than using the button during the start. So if he was really going out of his way to hide it because he knew he'd get caught, why in the world would he so blatantly say what he said over the radio during the race?

If he was trying to hide something, he wouldn't have. It's that simple. Say what you want about the unbelievability of the story from start to finish, but this actually makes it not that challenging to believe that he was indeed out of the loop, just as he claims to have been.

Bear in mind, Herta had extra ammunition, and it was justified. You can't blame him for his fiery response to the scandal. It was he who was passed by Newgarden after a restart in St. Petersburg, and he screen recorded on-board footage from Newgarden's No. 2 Chevrolet to show the insane pace difference.

The video alone did not prompt any series action against Team Penske, though how far it circulated beyond the walls of Andretti Global is unknown.

Newgarden also acknowledged that he is responsible for knowing the rules and so the violation ultimately falls squarely on him. And he's right. He also noted that it doesn't matter that he had no intention of cheating, further accepting the responsibility -- and the penalties -- for doing what he did.

But radio communication has since verified Newgarden's claims, further indicating that he truly did not know that he was doing anything wrong. In other words, he didn't conveniently invent that Long Beach radio discussion afterward. This was far from a situation of "apologizing because he got caught" and trying to dig his way out of it.

And while he has taken even more heat because of the fact that his story doesn't align with that of McLaughlin or Power, that's almost further reason to believe him.

His words were not just some PR-concocted nonsense that got rehearsed and rehearsed just to appease the media. It takes no effort to remember the truth. His press conference was far from an Oscar Award-winning display of acting.

The fact that a confused Newgarden came over the radio to complain about the push-to-pass not working and yet that didn't ring any alarm bells for the team is what makes no sense.

Why did it take Newgarden until the next day to be told about the violation from six-plus weeks prior? Why was he not simply told that "the button isn't working because it literally isn't supposed to during a restart"? Why did his radio panic not generate any kind of a response?

Who's really hiding something here?

It indicates that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of a 0% chance that everybody within Team Penske was completely clueless as to what had been happening. Zero.

What else is telling is team president Tim Cindric's silence. All he has done (aside from his now infamous "unfortunately" statement) is basically say that if you don't believe the team's explanation, you're in denial because you want to believe Team Penske cheated.

I would say that we all want to believe the truth, and Team Penske's lack of transparency is what contributes to that skepticism -- nothing more, nothing less.

There is more to the story here, and everybody in the paddock knows it. Nobody is buying what they're selling. Even if it was initially just an honest mistake, it didn't just so happen to fly under everybody's radar for this long, in this day and age.

But that story clearly extends well beyond Josef Newgarden, whose explanation has at least been largely verified.

There's a saying that goes, "do the crime, do the time". Newgarden has done both. Somebody -- perhaps even more than just one somebody -- at Team Penske still needs to do the latter.

The "woe is me" victim attitude here is not a good look for the team whose owner literally owns the series, a reality that had many fans fearing that something like this was possible after the acquisition was announced in 2019.

Yes, we've all seen the jokes that Roger Penske investigated himself for cheating and got caught. But on a more serious note, once again, has the only difference between a conspiracy theory and a fact proven to be nothing more than time?

Now the driver whose uncorrected belief that an illegal activity was legal is left as the fall guy heading into the month of May, where he triumphed last year as the newest Indy 500 champion.

Next. IndyCar: Josef Newgarden's points plummet continues at Barber. IndyCar: Josef Newgarden's points plummet continues at Barber. dark

On that note, contract negotiations could get quite interesting.