Many people consider the third time to be the charm. Count Josef Newgarden among them.
The Team Penske driver hopes to find victory lane this afternoon on the historic streets of Long Beach. Newgarden has three podiums in nine career starts, but has never been on the top step. He’s been incredibly close on the last two trips here, finishing second each time.
Newgarden has led laps in the past three Long Beach races and won pole position for last year’s event. He has finished behind winning Andretti Autosport cars each of the past two years, something he is keen to change today.
Those two Andretti wins went to Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. Curiously, Newgarden start alongside Herta in the top spot today.
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon won here. Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato won that race in 2013. Former Newgarden teammate Simon Pagenaud also has a Long Beach win on his resume. Current teammate Will Power has two wins at Long Beach, as does Rossi.
Each driver wishes to add his name to the long list of winners of this emblematic event. The Indy 500 is obviously at the top of everyone’s list, but most have Long Beach right behind it.
While Newgarden has two series championships to its credit, the driver of Chevrolet n°2 could not win either of the two most prestigious events on the calendar. Long Beach and IMS are two of five venues on the 2022 calendar where he has never won. His resume is impressive, but he lacks a “crown jewel” win.
A trophy is Newgarden’s goal today, but getting one in Long Beach would feel a bit more special. “I would love a trophy,” he said. “I think, that would be awesome. They’re all beautiful and special. I guess they’re like kids. You don’t pick a favorite. They’re all special. I’d love that. That would be awesome. Long Beach is an awesome place.
“I would love to win there,” Newgarden continued. “We’ve been close before, so we have to find a way to close the deal. It’s as simple as that. If we have a weak place, we’re going to make it a strong place, and I feel like Long Beach got there slowly for us. It’s definitely become a strength, and we just need a little more to close the deal and feel like we can do it this weekend.
The good news for Newgarden is that things are very different this year. The team is much more successful this season, having been winless in the first eight races a year ago. In fact, the team is undefeated heading into this event, with Scott McLaughlin winning the season-opening race in St. Petersburg and Newgarden beating him to the finish line in a thrilling photo-finish in Texas.
A third straight win seems incredibly rare, but Penske has done it seven times since the start of the 2016 season. They qualify ahead of the field and they clearly have the pace they lacked last year. They have also won five of the last 11 street races.
As good as Penske got through the first two races, Newgarden knows it’s way too early to call them a team to beat. “It’s a good start, but it’s never the norm for the rest of the year. We don’t know what the middle of the season or the end of the season is going to bring, so we just try to stay ready and focused on the next race.
This is IndyCar’s 38th race but the 46th open-wheel race on the street circuit. The roots of this event go back to Formula 1 in 1976. Mario Andretti went on the road to victory the following year. Other legends have followed suit including Gilles Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr, Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya and Sebastien Bourdais. Now Newgarden has the opportunity to complete some unfinished business.
It’s important to point out that Penske has only won twice at Long Beach since 2001. Power took the win in 2012 and Pagenaud’s win in 2016 is their final trip to winning ways. The team hasn’t necessarily struggled on the street circuit, but Newgarden admits it has become a priority for the organization.
“If we have a weak place, we’re going to make it a strong place,” Newgarden said. “I feel like Long Beach is slowly getting there for us. It’s definitely become a strength, and we just need a little bit more to close the deal and feel like we can do it this weekend. .”
Newgarden has finished 2nd in the last two races here. The driver of car n°2 started 2nd today. These are interesting coincidences for the driver who is finally aiming for the top step of the podium. A victory this afternoon will give him and the team all the momentum needed for the next race, which will technically take place in May.
“I think for Long Beach we definitely have good momentum, but that changes so quickly in this sport,” Newgarden said. “We’re just going to stay focused on the task and hopefully we can keep going. Especially as we enter the month of May where it is most important to maintain some momentum.”