Josef Newgarden demonstrated some true grit at Elkhart Lake last weekend. He broke his right collarbone and hand in a big accident in Texas two weeks earlier but bounced back in style by coming through from the back of the grid to finish a rousing eighth on Elkhart’s superb Road America road course.
Newgarden arrived at Road America with 13 screws in his broken clavicle and a brace on his broken right hand. He said before practice started he believed the track’s layout would be a help in coping with his injuries.
“This is probably one of the best tracks from a layout point of view because most of the turns are right-handers, so the loading is going to be on my left shoulder. Physically, Road America is one of the toughest tracks. It’s fast and in a lot of the brake zones, you’re leaning on your belts.”
Indy cars do not have power steering and make plenty of downforce, as much as 6,000 pounds in road course trim. Racing on an oval last weekend might have been impossible for him. “If we were going to a place like Iowa, I don’t know if I’d be able to do it,” he acknowledged. “It would be way too much constant load on the right shoulder and is a little more demanding physically overall.”
Surprisingly Newgarden was very competitive at Elkhart Lake, although he made a mistake in qualifying and spun in the Carousel on his hot lap. That brought out a yellow flag, resulting in Newgarden losing his two fastest laps, which meant he had to start the race from 20th. Newgarden made steady progress in the race, making it into the top 10 in the closing stages and engaging in a spirited battle with Juan Pablo Montoya.
“We had fun there,” Newgarden grinned. “Juan’s a tough guy to race. You’ve got to run him hard. I was struggling a little bit at the end. I had a little bit of an engine issue but I was able to run him deep on the brakes and then he got me back. I got him back and then finally he got me back. What more can you want as a race car driver? I just want to run toe-to-toe with these guys.”
Newgarden crossed the line in eighth place and was able to hold onto fifth in IndyCar points behind Penske trio Simon Pagenaud, Hélio Castroneves and Will Power and Ganassi’s Scott Dixon. “I’m really happy,” Newgarden said. “We gained some points on the front-runners today, but I feel a little disappointed because the car was better than eighth place. A lot of that comes down to qualifying. I didn’t do a great job of putting the car where we needed to be and I feel bad for my guys. They deserved a little better, but I’m not going to discount eighth. We had a good run, we did what we had to do for the most part.
“We’ll try to heal up a little better for the next race at Iowa and try to get another win and move up the charts. I think we’ve got a real opportunity to challenge these guys at the front of the championship.”
Newgarden said he believed his injuries didn’t affect his performance at Road America. “I don’t think so from a speed standpoint,” he commented. “I probably wasn’t in the right mindset all weekend. I really tried to focus on my driving and not worry about the injuries. They really weren’t limiting me as much as people might think.
“I pushed too hard in qualifying and made a mistake, we haven’t made too many of those this year. I think that put us on the back foot. Those are the type of mistakes that hurt you in the points on a race weekend. We could have maybe had a podium this weekend. Those are the types of things we need to minimise.”
The world’s best athletes are able to compete when hurt. Their attitude is to put their injuries from their mind and concentrate on doing their sport in the best possible way. You can’t help being impressed by this approach.
For his part, Josef Newgarden has shown that he’s not only a very fast driver but also an extremely tough, single-minded young man who is intent on doing battle this year with Penske and Ganassi, IndyCar’s two top teams.