Penske: Newgarden’s ‘guts’ sent powerful message
Roger Penske says Josef Newgarden’s quick return from a horror crash sent a powerful message during his quest to refresh his driving stocks with young talent.
Confirmed recently as the replacement for veteran Juan Pablo Montoya with IndyCar’s most successful operation, Newgarden had become hot property for his burgeoning talent with Ed Carpenter Racing.
Less than two weeks after breaking his collarbone and suffering hand fractures in a sickening crash at Texas Motor Speedway, Newgarden returned to race at Road America where he finished a courageous eighth.
The 25-year-old then turned in the performance of his career by lapping all but four cars when he led 282 of the 300 laps to beat Penske’s 2014 champion Will Power at Iowa.
“We saw what he did at Iowa, almost lapped the field there which is a mile track, a tough track, fast,” Penske told Speedcafe.com.
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“Probably the most interesting thing and a powerful message from him was that he had a broken collarbone and 13 days later he was back in a racecar.
“That shows the kind of guts the kid has.
“He’s a quality guy as well. As you know today the commercial side, the driver becomes very important as we try to maintain our sponsors and look for new ones.”
Newgarden becomes the first American driver since Sam Hornish jr 10 years ago to drive full-time for Team Penske which clinched 1-2-3 in the recently completed championship with Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves.
“It’s been 22 years since we did that (1-2-3),” said Penske.
“We did that with (Al jr) Unser, (Emerson) Fittipaldi and (Paul) Tracy.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good dream team now when you think about it.”
Newgarden arrives at Penske furnished with impeccable racing and off-track qualities which ticks all the boxes for arguably the most respected racing operation in the world.
“Newgarden is young, he’s had four years of opportunity to get his act together,” Penske said.
“Now we look towards 2017 with pretty much the same team, same engineers and what is so important is that consistency.
“You go to Indy with six or seven hundred years of experience which makes a huge difference rather and just put a pick-up team together.
“I think he (Newgarden) is on a very steep curve to success there is no question.”
Penske explained that Montoya, who claimed the team’s 16th Indy 500 win in 2015, had wanted a final season however he could not accommodate the Colombian’s plans.
“With Juan, who will probably run with us at Indy (a fifth car for the 500) and maybe if we do some sports car stuff, potentially he will be part of our team,” said Penske.
“I needed to explain to him that I needed to look at the long term situation.”
Penske was full of praise for the stoic fight Australia’s Power put up after missing the opening round following concussion-like symptoms triggered by a practice crash at St Petersburg.
Crucially, missing a round conspired against Power in the fullness of the championship.
“If he (Power) didn’t miss that first race because of his equilibrium and then of course we had the problem at the last race at Sonoma,” said Penske.
“We’ve never had a problem with a clutch release in the electronic box which hurt him.
“So he dug down deep. Winning those four races (mid-season) he did a very good job.
“It was a great recovery. I was really impressed.”