JOSEF NEWGARDEN, NO. 2 TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET:
Last year you talked about you have five wins, but you could win 10 in a year, that's how good we are. Do you have momentum heading into 2023? What's the goal right now?
“Honestly, I don't feel that different leaving Laguna [Seca], where I was kind of at mentally there, my statements, what I was projecting. I feel very similar to that place. Not a lot' has transpired between now and then. I’m just in the same spot, ready to get back going, improve where we can, be better in areas where we need to be, put a good season together. I don't think we're going to change much. I don't know that we need to change anything as far as our approach or process. I think everything that we're doing is what we need to be doing. INDYCAR just has that intangible side to it where you just can't predict everything. You do need a little bit of I don't want say lock but you need the tides to favor you at times. It's preparation, hard work, maximizing each day, then timing needs to be on your side. Sort of the tides need to flow for you. I think most of everything went well for us last year. There were just too many events, just a couple too many races that didn't go our way that we needed to.”
They used to say in a championship race that the leader, biggest contender is going to have a bad race. Almost seems like with as competitive as the series is, you can't even afford that any more. Has it gotten to that point?
“I think you can have a bad race. You just can't have three or four of them. Three or four is a lot. It depends on the year. I think the complexion of each year is different. It's always been hard for me to assess things by comparing year to year. They're all different. There are some years you probably could afford three or four bad races. Last year was not a year that you could afford that. It depends on who's having a great year. Sometimes people just have a good run and nothing seems to go wrong for them. That's just the nature of the beast.”
What have you discovered when you dissected 2022? You said luck is a big part of it?
“It really is. I've done this enough I think to have a fair assessment of it. It's my opinion there's that intangible you can't control. When I analyze other drivers and the seasons they've had, even my own, sometime timing just seems to work out really well for certain teams and individuals. That's a thing you can't control, unfortunately, right? With that kind of comes peace of mind. I focus on controlling how can we build the best cars possible to give ourselves the best speed, how can we make the best decisions we can strategy-wise, position-wise. You really just have to hope that the timing blesses you throughout the year as well. I am so positive, when we get a year where we get good timing paired with great speed and decisions, it will be a great year. It will be really great. Much better than what we had last year.”
A lot of drivers talked about continuity, how positive that is. You have another new engineer this year. Is that a scary thing or are there positives?
There are positives. I always have great confidence in whoever's around me at Team Penske. We just are able to attract some of the best of the best talent-wise. Anyone that's in the doors there I feel confident to work with. You could put anyone with me and I'll be happy to find a way to make the most of it. But I don't want to say it just like that. It's not me making the most of it. I'm going to be working with great individuals. But there are a lot of new individuals on the 2 car again. It's going to be a new crew chief, new mechanics. There's a lot of new faces again this season. But there's some continuity there. I think we'll be able to get everybody gelling pretty quickly. My new engineer was with me last year, which is really great, Luke Mason, who was kind of the performance engineer. He is fantastic. I think he will step into the role and absolutely shine. I have no doubt about it.”
With this test coming up tomorrow and Friday, testing in the off-season is so limited, a track that INDYCAR has never been to before, what do you feel you can take away from going to Thermal these next couple days?
“You probably shouldn't come out of here either too excited or too demoralized depending on how it goes because it is not incredibly relevant when it comes to at-track performance. We're not going to run here this year for a points-scoring race. From that standpoint, it's not relevant. What it is relevant for and what I'm excited about is just being on track. We definitely need it on the No. 2 car. We have a lot of new people. We're going to maximize this time by just treating it like a race weekend in that we're doing all the things we would do on a normal weekend to be fast and work well and efficient together. When we come out of the weekend we'll have something to look at, what did we do well or not well. We have a good, relevant conversation piece to take into St. Pete. From that standpoint it's excellent. If we finish 15th on the charts, yeah, maybe we shouldn't read too much into that. It obviously matters, why were we 15th. I'm not going to be blowing up on the fact that we were 15th at Thermal when we're not coming back here for a race this year.”
Bearing in mind your team won nine races last year, probably could have won at least three more, what do you still need to find? Are you just relying on Chevy finding another giant step?
“Yeah, I hope not. I mean, I think the parity in the sport it's because of the longstandingness of the car. You're seeing most teams have reached a certain max to what they can really look for, look into. I am always pushing the team on how are we going to separate ourselves? It's difficult because we've almost examined everything to the Nth degree. What can we do? We are Team Penske, we've got to find a separator within the rules. Within the rules, there's a way we can continue to work to separate ourselves. We're doing that. We're trying to continue to dive deeper into areas we've already been through multiple times. We're going to go through them again, keep hammering them. We keep finding little things. I do believe there is more. I think we need to continue to have that attitude because when you don't have that attitude is when you stay flat and you go in reverse. We just can't afford that. We got to keep going forward. Indianapolis is obviously the most glaring example of where we can continue to push forward. There are other areas where we've excelled better, but Indianapolis is still a weak point for us.”
Would it be fair to say that will be where the team's focus has been in the off-season?
“No doubt. It's number one. It's the number one objective. There's just no excuse for it. We have to be better at Indianapolis, full stop. It's not from a lack of trying. I can tell you it wasn't from a lack of trying last off-season. We thought we were going to be exactly where we wanted to be. I think we made tremendous progress, but we weren't fully there. We're doubling down again. No excuses. We've got to make it better.”
SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN, NO. 3 TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET:
Three wins last year, three poles, seven podiums, eight top-fives, 12 top-10s. Remarkable season, yet you got to get better if you want to think about winning a championship and the Indianapolis 500. Your thoughts heading into a new year?
“I know that we made a massive step personally for me last year. That was due to a number of things, things clicking, working out really good. But now what we know of INDYCAR racing, you just need to continue stepping up a little. McLaren is going to be fast, Andretti, Ganassi as we know is unreal. We need to continue to build as a team, myself. I've certainly looked at negatives that I can improve on. Hopefully that bodes me well for the rest of the season.”
What are the negatives you can improve on?
“Yeah, for me, I made a couple mistakes mid-season. My Indy crash, Detroit going down the escape road, a few things that just sort of put me on the back foot championship-wise. If you looked at my season from maybe Road America on, I felt like everything sort of clicked. I just took races as they came. The way I finished the season last year, I've got to start and continue to do every race of the year like that. I can't afford mistakes. You can't afford mistakes in INDYCAR and be on the back foot.”
Took a big step in year two. Three wins. Josef said he wants to end the run of 17 consecutive years of the championship coming down to the season-ending race. Have you been in that situation before? You have to keep going up against two championships that are your teammates.
“For me, it's rewarding when you can beat those guys. You know that they're at the top of their game. They're probably the best INDYCAR drivers, some of the best INDYCAR drivers around right now. You know when you're beating them, you're doing a good job. As a team, we push each other. The competitiveness between us all, we hate losing to each other, but we also know the reward in beating each other, for the team to win. It's just good camaraderie, the boys and girls push each other on the mechanics side. Whose cars get done the fastest. Good, competitive rivalry between everyone. That starts from how we interact, the three of us. Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I wouldn't say it's frustrating that I have them as teammates. I think it's like -- I just want to chase something, if I'm better than them on the day, you have to be somewhere thereabouts.”
Last year when I interviewed Tim Cindric, he said you're right where he expected you to be in year two. Year three he said he expected you to go into the last race of the season with the championship in his hand. How realistic is that especially after you've been through the fires of a championship battle?
“I'm sure it's realistic. I believe in myself that I can do it and be a part of the fight again. I mean, being a part of the fight last year was a pretty cool moment. Realistically, we weren't really a part of the fight, but we were mathematically in it. This year for sure I'm excited to continue to learn and be a sponge and just execute the way I think we need to execute to be there at the end. I truly believe I can do that.”
Some athletes don't buy into the you can take momentum from one season to the next. Do you feel like you can take what you just did at the end of last season over to 2023? Does a longer off-season negate that?
“No, it’s the same length off-season last time. I think it's more up to you and your mentality and what you think. I certainly believe you can't stop me from learning what I learnt last year. I still know what I learn understand and what I can improve on. Whether it's momentum or whether it's just learnings, I know what I learnt and what I need to learn and be better at from last year, I know what I've had to work on in saying that. That's what I've worked on. I think that hopefully will put me in good stead.”
You've felt pressure on yourself. You've always wanted quick results. Now everybody is pointing to you as a championship frontrunner. Do you feel that pressure? Do you block that out?
“I think now you just know, like, the learning is over now. Team Penske, you got a car that you know can win races. You're expected to compete for championships. That's just an expectation that I have, that I had in Australia for five, six years. I understand the mentality and understand what it's like to have that pressure. I feel like it's not an unknown for me. I'm not really stressed about it. I sort of know my ability, what I can do. If it's good enough, it's good enough. Yeah, it's not an unknown and I'm not too worried about it at all. I put more pressure on myself than anyone can put on me. I just focus on that myself.”
What are your goals for the test this week?
“I need to learn the track first. I sort of don't really know where it goes. I feel like I'm going to get lost out there. That's probably the first thing. But we've got a bit of a list of things we got to get through, mate. We'll work on that, get some bits and pieces done for what we think is going to help us later on in the season. We don't know what the bitumen is like, if it's hard on tires, low grip. It looks low grip and hard on tires. Who knows when you get out there, how long it will take for the track to rubber up. We got plenty to get through, like we always do. We'll try to make the most of every lap we have.”
WILL POWER, NO. 12 TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET:
I know you mentioned having not been in the car since you clinched the championship at Laguna. I know testing has been increasingly a little bit more limited these last couple years. What has that been like literally having not been in an INDYCAR for six months after coming off of such a high and such an important year in your career?
“It's the way it is these days, so you've got simulators that you can go through setup items and somewhat keep shot. It's never the same as the real car. There's no substitute for being in the real car. But everyone is in the same boat, and you've got to make the most of these very limited days.”
This next two days at Thermal, what have you understood about why INDYCAR is doing this, what you hope to gain from it? It's a track you guys don't race at. What do you think you can gain from it, and have you studied it much yet?
“Yeah, I don't know. I actually haven't asked INDYCAR why we're doing it here, but it's a nice location. I think it's a pretty nice track. As far as what you'll get out of it is going through the motions of a race weekend basically. It's not really -- we won't know until we drive on it what it really applies to, which track would be the most similar. I'm thinking Indy road course, sort of Portland. You could probably get some stuff from it there. I think it's getting the group together, going through the motions of getting a setup for a track, and being fast and getting back into the flow of things more than anything.”
How helpful is it to you to keep your race craft sharpness that GoPro is just a few miles away from Team Penske's headquarters?
“Yeah, I love go-karting. It's a lot of fun. It's very intense, very competitive. Also, that's somewhere you can get some race fitness for sure because you've actually got some G-forces. The simulator you get obviously the steering so you can work on your arms, but you actually get neck and whole body in the go-kart. I just love karting. I have since I was a kid. I do it for fun, and it keeps me sharp.”
Obviously now you've got the pole record. How big of a deal is it now to get that pole at IMS on the oval?
“That's one that's eluded me for a long time, and I've had times that I've had the car to do it and then just sort of overshot or undershot in some way of trimming or it just hasn't worked out or the wind. It's a tough one because it's often out of your hands. It really depends on the car you have that year, the time you go, the temperature, it's all got to work. It's all got to. Either it'll happen or it won't. Either it'll all fall in place and it'll be there, or -- yeah.”
You've gotten poles at St. Pete. What is it about that track and the start of the season that amps you up or gets you going so quickly? Is it important to start off with a pole the first race?
“Yeah, I think it's the whole off-season of preparation, and you turn up and it's a track that suits me. It's pretty tight, technical, got to brush walls to get it. Yeah, everything I like about qualifying is that track, and there's not much time to think so you're always in a corner. Yeah, always look forward to going to St. Pete.”
You're not known as an un-confident guy. What type of confidence does getting another championship and setting the all-time record in poles, how would you feel if you were able to get another four or five poles just this next year alone and another championship?
“Yeah, that's the goal. The confidence, I just think the older you get, the more comfortable you are with the situation. You just naturally gain confidence. You know your strengths. You know your weaknesses. You know how to extract the most out of yourself. That's kind of what I've been doing. I would say I don't have much pressure at this time in my career, so it's all about the craft and getting the most out of it. Yeah, it's a good space to be in.”
Was that kind of key to your amazing consistency through the season, just not letting emotion override…
“Yeah, like I said, every season flows differently, but just in general in my life, I just don't put too much emotion into situations. There's nothing to be gained from it. There's just a lot of things that clicked last year within my team, the crew. Obviously, Dave Faustino and the new crew chief are all pretty good group, pretty good, positive group, enjoying the job.”