Josef Newgarden poses in the pits

Unknowns Add Excitement at St. Petersburg for Josef Newgarden

With an NTT IndyCar Series title and 10 career race wins under his belt, you wouldn’t expect Josef Newgarden to need to get back up to speed going into the eighth season of his career. However, the Team Penske driver admits that everyone has some dust to shake off going into the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“You definitely tend to get a little bit rusty as a driver,” Newgarden said with a laugh. “The toughest thing is to get back into that racing mentality where you’ve got guys next to you and you’ve got to make the right decisions over and over again within a 90 lap race around St. Pete.”

“That’s the toughest thing: trying not to make a mistake and get back into that killer instinct reflex mode where you can make the right decisions quickly.”

Despite being as far away from the championship round as you can get, a strong start at St. Petersburg can set the course of success. Newgarden knows this as well as anyone: his 2011 Indy Lights championship run began on top of the St. Pete podium. For him, the momentum matches the anticipation.

“I’ve always preferred to have a great start to the year,” he says. “You’re itching to get back in the race car after the offseason. Everyone is excited just because of that, they’ve had a lot of time to think about racing. St. Pete is the first place you get to do it for the year. That always brings a bunch of excitement.”

The 2018 race debuted a new era of IndyCar, with a stylish low-downforce chassis that has proven popular amongst drivers and fans. Now with a year’s experience in the car, teams continue to work out kinks and improve their performance. This, coupled with personnel changes on and off the track adds to the allure of a new season.

“The new car has been everything that we hoped it would be,” he says. “You have this offseason and these unknowns with changes in the car, changes with drivers, changes with teams, and you don’t really get a strong read on all of that until you actually get down to St. Pete for the first race. It’s a very exciting race I think, for the fans, exciting for us as drivers to see what takes place.”

These unknowns and anticipations set the stage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as a destination for racing fans. As the first page of a new chapter in IndyCar history, anticipation hangs in the air of St. Petersburg and seeps into every crevice of the sport. These unknowns are what keep fans and drivers on their toes and itching to come back every season.

“St. Pete, as it stands alone, is really a wonderful atmosphere,” Newgarden said. “It’s one of our most popular destinations whether it’s sponsors, or teams, or fans, everyone seems to want to go to the first race of the year.”

“That ambience that you get for the entire weekend really sticks out in my mind. It’s one of the places I love going to the most.”

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