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Newgarden: Team Chevy the ‘difference-maker’ in taking pole

Written by Archie O’Reilly


Josef Newgarden has said that “Team Chevy absolutely crushed it in this off-season” and added that he “couldn’t feel more positive” after taking pole position for Team Penske for the NTT IndyCar Series season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg.


“I think a huge difference-maker today was just Chevrolet,” he said. “I’m not going to put everything on them because it’s always a package - we always have to work together in conjunction. I think there were things we fell short on last year from a chassis standpoint. 


“You know where we weren’t strong just as a team and what we needed to do, road and street course-wise. I think we've elevated our game and Chevrolet has absolutely elevated their side. They took a lot of meetings with us in the off-season. They work hard every offseason. But I think they just went that extra mile this go-around. 


“It’s still early days, but I’m really encouraged by what they brought here and what we can see for the rest of the year.”


The Indianapolis 500 winner only reached the Firestone Fast Six on three occasions in the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season - across 12 road and street course races. Amid a year of Team Penske trying to develop qualifying performance, particularly on road and street tracks, Newgarden went without a pole position.


But, by pipping Felix Rosenqvist, driving a Honda-powered car for new team Meyer Shank Racing, to the NTT P1 Award in St. Pete to begin the 2024 season, Newgarden has notched his first pole since Detroit in June 2022. And by a margin of only 0.0058 seconds - the tightest margin since Detroit in 2012, when Will Power edged Scott Dixon by 0.0044s.


“We get the question every off-season: ‘Who is your main threat?’” Newgarden said. “You can’t answer that clearly ever in IndyCar. You just don’t know who is going to rise to the occasion and improve. I think Felix is a great example of this. I’ve always thought the world of Felix - he’s a top-level driver. He’s one of the best drivers in the world…


“This is the most difficult series in the world I think to put it all together, so you get people coming up and down the grid all the time. I just don’t think you can bank on any one individual being the class of the field.”


He spoke in-depth about refocusing his priorities this off-season during a Content Day media conference in January, remarking that he feels he could “create some better focus in areas” heading into the 2024 season. 


“In a lot of ways, just to be transparent, I want to get back to loving this,” he said at the start of the year. “Not that I didn't love it in the past, but I think when you get bogged down by too much, then sometimes the joy slips away.”


Speaking on the NBC broadcast after taking pole for the season-opening race, Newgarden said he cannot help but get “jacked up” every race. His refocusing and search for improvement on a fifth-place championship finish last year has started in strong fashion.


“I think we’ve made the necessary steps to be better on a street course,” he said. “I think we can get there in a road course too. We just have to make sure we preserve that excellent oval package that we’ve had, but if we can get all of them, then that’s what we were lacking last year. We just did not have the consistency across the board.”


Having won four of five races on ovals in 2023 but still coming up short in the championship, also losing out to teammate Scott McLaughlin in the standings, Newgarden knows he cannot rely on the increase to seven oval races for 2024.


“I’m not going to rest on anything from prior seasons,” he said. “I think the balance is still pretty mixed, as it should be. We’ve got a nice split between road, street, and oval. I don’t think you can hide behind the fact that you have to be good across the board. You can’t be weak anywhere. I'm not going to lean on a couple of new oval additions.”


Team-wise on his No.2 car, Newgarden has had an off-season of stability rather than any uncertainty of major changes in the engineering department. He does not want to read into this too much but believes consistency definitely does not hurt him heading into the season.


“I don’t want to lean too aggressively into the consistency side,” he said. “I think we’ve had, in general, a lot of consistency in our team… The way we operate at Team Penske is a little bit unique. In a lot of ways, you’re working with everybody on all cars. But we do have more consistency than last year. It’s Luke [Mason]’s second year with me.”


Newgarden’s race engineer, Luke Mason, was one of the first people he serenaded on the radio after securing pole with a late lap in the Fast Six session.


“He’s great,” Newgarden said. “I’ve been fortunate in my career, I’ve got to work with just tremendous talent every single year. I’ve really had no weak points. Luke just has been an addition to that. He’s another person that to me is an absolute rock star race engineer. Anybody that knows what a race engineer really is would understand the significance of that. 


“You can be a technically savvy individual, you can be a good engineer, but a race engineer requires something just a little different. I think Luke excels at it. I just think of world of him. He’s in a great spot. He's certainly bringing a great dynamic to our team in a lot more ways than just one.”


Newgarden will lead the field to green for the first race of the IndyCar season on the streets of St. Pete at 12.30pm ET (4.30pm GMT) on Sunday.

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