Brandon Hartranft joins Pipes Motorsports for WSX 2022

MONTEREY, Calif. — Josef Newgarden walked into the media center for the final post-race interview of the 2022 IndyCar season looking like he was in a trance.

To make matters worse, he arrived early, as rival team owner Bobby Rahal and driver Christian Lundgaard were wrapping up a press conference about Lundgaard’s 2022 IndyCar Rooke of the Year title.

Newgarden looked exhausted. He gave everything he had behind the wheel from his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet to Team Penske in a bid to win the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday and, possibly, the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

A mistake and a spin in the corkscrew in Saturday qualifying plunged him into a deep hole. He started 25e but quickly passed the cars as if standing still.

“I was just driving the old-fashioned way,” Newgarden said. “I was going back to the junior days. What happens, happens. I’m just going as hard as I can.

On lap 46, he passed teammate and championship leader Will Power for second place. If Newgarden can win the race and Power finishes outside the podium, Newgarden might have a shot at winning the championship.

But race winner Alex Palou was untouchable, opening an insurmountable gap with second place Newgarden.

Palou’s #10 Honda crossed the finish line 30.382 seconds ahead of Newgarden’s Chevy. Power finished third and clinched his second NTT IndyCar Series championship by 16 points.

Newgarden considers himself a perfectionist. He had an almost perfect race, but in his mind he should never have made the mistake in qualifying that forced him to start 25e in the 26-car field at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

When Newgarden took a seat alongside Palou in the post-race interview, his eyes looked as if he was a million miles away as Palou discussed his only win of the 2022 season.

One could only guess what Newgarden was thinking. At one point he lowered his head and rubbed his eyes.

That’s the pain that comes with finishing second in the IndyCar Series championship for the third year in a row. It’s also the pain that comes with winning four more races than the series champion in 2022 – five wins to one for Power.

But Power had nine podiums and Newgarden six.

“We just needed to have a more consistent season,” Newgarden lamented. “There’s no doubt about it. I think the peak performance has been there all year. We just didn’t have the consistency. That’s ultimately what put us at a disadvantage when we arrived here.

“If we can clean that up, I have no doubt we can fight for the championship again next year.”

Newgarden joined Team Penske in 2017 and was an instant success winning the championship in his first year with the team. Two years later, Newgarden had another championship in 2019.

Since that championship, Newgarden has been the strongest in IndyCar, but he could snatch the championship from the leader. In 2020, Scott Dixon built a huge lead at the start of a pandemic-hit season where the schedule included doubles at most venues and three races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in order to have a full season. .

Newgarden charged hard at the end of that year and won the season finale in St. Petersburg, Florida, but Dixon won the championship by 16 points.

Going into the 2021 season finale at Long Beach, Newgarden was third in points behind Palou and Pato O’Ward. After openly questioning why he was part of a pre-race media event for championship contender, Newgarden raced to a second-place finish as O’Ward crashed out on lap 43. Palou finished fourth and won the championship by 38 points over Newgarden.

Sunday at Laguna Seca, he finished 16 points behind Power on another strong closing performance.

“Well, we tried today for sure,” Newgarden said. “We did our best, as we always do. Alex was hard to catch today. I think he was just amazing, especially on the last two stints. He did a truly amazing job. It was going to be difficult to reach him.

For the second consecutive season, Josef Newgarden finished second in the IndyCar season finale and championship standings (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“We got as far as second place, we just need one more place, but Alex seemed a bit out of reach today. So great job from them.

“I’m happy that we were able to fight where we did. It was a tough day and we knew we had to fight. In the end, we missed this championship. We have to be in a different position next year and fight a lot harder so that we can hopefully be in a much better position heading into this weekend, and I think we can. TO DO.

“It’s been a really tough year. It was good in many ways, but it was also very negative in many other ways. I’m excited about a reset, excited to be back next year, and I know we have the team to get the job done.

With pain comes pride. There was no reason Newgarden couldn’t help but be proud of his effort, but an eighth in Portland on September 4 followed by his spin and failure to make it out of the first round of the qualifying at Laguna Seca was extremely expensive in a quest for a championship.

“I think it’s a different day if you start on pole for sure,” Newgarden said. “It gives us a very different picture. We are going to run a different race and we are going to run it without a deficit. We started this race last, so we started with a big deficit.

“It’s hard to predict. If we hadn’t had the deficit, I don’t know if we would have had enough to beat this guy (Palou) today. He was stellar, and there’s no doubt about that, so I don’t want to sideline what he did.

“But it’s a different day when you first start. We would not have had that deficit to make up.

“I don’t know how it would have turned out. I don’t know if that would have changed (Power’s) program somehow. Really, we win pole, we win the day, all I need is for Power to finish fourth, and that seems pretty doable.

“At the end of the day, rotation was almost the nail in the coffin this weekend. It was right. We didn’t need that to happen. It was also such a stupid thing to happen. It was not a grand problem. There’s a sidewalk you don’t want to touch, and I accidentally touched it, and it created a big problem.

“Yeah, hard to say how it would have gone if we put the thing in pole position, but I would have rather done that and seen what happened than having to come from behind today.”

Newgarden was proud of his team’s efforts. He praised Power’s championship team, because as they say at Team Penske, “A win for one car is a win for all of us.”

“Obviously we’re all competitive and we personally want to be the winners, but when we win as a team, it’s important for everyone,” Newgarden said. “I am filled with a lot of pride.

“But I’m also filled with a bit of relief. I’m pretty happy to go into this offseason reset, recharge, and then find a way to hit everyone harder next year, and I know we can do that.

“The other overwhelming positive in my mind is that I know we can do better than this year. I just know we can. When we put it together, I’m just saying to you, be careful, because when we put it together , it’s going to be great.

In a way, Newgarden should be proud of its efforts. He gave it his all, squeezed every last ounce of effort he could behind the wheel and pushed the race car as hard as he could, only to see the winning driver disappear into the distance and his championship hopes fade.

“That was all I had today,” Newgarden said. “We were finally short of Alex. We’re going to have to re-evaluate and figure out how to improve a bit on the deficit we’ve had on Alex in these last two stints. I already have some ideas, and I think if we were to do this race again, I already know what we would try, and if we do it again further, that will be a game changer as well. I’m hopeful for another shot.

“As far as what we put together today, that’s all we had.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

Comments are closed.