Winning the IndyCar championship for the second time in three years, Josef Newgarden played the long game with a smart head on his 28-year-old shoulders. It wasn’t just the four victories, three of which owed quite a lot to tactical blunders by his strongest opponents and/or tactical genius by his strategist and Penske president Tim Cindric. It’s the fact that, like Scott Dixon, Newgarden usually made the best of his less convincing weekends, and avoided the mistake-inducing tendency to overreach that sapped momentum from the title challenges of rivals such as Will Power.
And to be fair to Newgarden, it was his searing pace that allowed Cindric to shuffle strategy at Texas and vault him to the front. Newgarden would again demonstrate his oval prowess with a commanding victory at Iowa. Like Dixon, Newgarden made two daft errors – the clash with James Hinchcliffe in the second race at Detroit, and the not-a-hope-in-hell passing attempt on Ryan Hunter-Reay at Turn 2 on the final lap at Mid-Ohio.
But when it mattered, Newgarden usually reined in his impetuosity. And it was impossible not to admire him in qualifying for the penultimate race at Portland: sure, he made a blunder that left him mid-grid, but at least he was fast and simply screwed up while putting everything on the line. That’s what makes Newgarden fun: his natural aggression is never far from the surface in the racecar, while his demeanour outside the cockpit is that of a humorous but serious pro. He’s a truly admirable ambassador for IndyCar.