Josef Newgarden Is Confident and Conditioned in His Countdown to Indy
Josef Newgarden is considered one of the faces of the IndyCar circuit. Since his pro debut in 2012—an 11th place finish at the Honda Grand Prix—the 32-year-old has developed into one of the racing league’s most consistent drivers. In addition to being a two-time IndyCar Series champion, Newgarden’s 26 wins ranks him third among current drivers.
The Tennessee native also brings the muscle each weekend to the NTT IndyCar circuit, developing a physique equally prepared to be in front of the camera for a fitness magazine photo shoot as it is behind the wheel of a twin-turbo machine maneuvering in excess of 230 mph. And in order for Newgarden to finally develop a Winning Strategy to conquer his greatest racing challenge—breaking his Indy 500 slump, it may take a strength and skill combo. So far, in 11 attempts at making it to the Brickyard’s winner’s circle, Newgarden has come up short each race, his best being a third-place finish in 2016.
This year’s leadup to the sport’s signature event on May 28 has taken a creative turn, as race fans have been able to get behind the scenes glimpses of Newgarden and other drivers on the new CW show “100 Days to Indy.” The high-speed docuseries gives viewers an off the track version of Newgarden, including portions of his off-the-charts workout routine as well as his quirky, off the cuff YouTube comedy skits he created with Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin—“Bus Bros”— which shows a lighter side of the oftentimes hectic weekly Indy grind.
And as IndyCar’s popularity continues to grow—NBC reported that last year was its most-watched season since 2016—it’s becoming more critical for IndyCar to showcase its superstars. Newgarden, as one of its auto racing amabassadors, believes shows like “100 Days” can not only help catapult IndyCar back to the top tier of overall sports viewership, but its superstars as well.
“IndyCar to me just really stands out as the most competitive product right now,” Newgarden says, “so I know all these personalities, and how interesting everybody’s stories are. I don’t think everybody in the world really knows about them, and that’s the beauty of “100 Days to Indy”: You’re going to get an inside look into a lot of the different personalities and talents who are that are in the sport, not just the drivers, but a lot of the team members.”
One of the stories includes a glimpse of the 6’, 180-pound weightroom warrior’s workout regimen, which may look as much CrossFit than for a motorsports athlete looking to build a better conditioning base to help build endurance as the season progresses. His fit frame hardly goes unnoticed among other drivers—with one fellow driver dropping a line during the series that Newgarden should think about losing weight because of “too much muscle.” But so far, you can’t argue the results, on the track or the gym, as Newgarden’s heavy reliance on rowing and the ski erg helps him dominate on the track.
“I think the best training you can do is really, you know, picking up a concept to machine you know, if you go rowing or you jump on a skier,” Newgarden says. “Those are the best exercises because those are going to be muscular dominant and also have a huge cardio component to it. So you can really kind of train both sides of the world, which is I think, exactly what you find in an IndyCar, you know, it’s physically demanding, it’s high G loading is very heavy steering.”
Consistency and the competitive challenge is what fuels Newgarden, who grew up playing basketball. In addition to being a two-time IndyCar champion, his athleticism has gotten him invites to participate in a wide range of events, including as a celebrity athlete to participate in the NFL Combine, a guest member of the Indiana Pacers “Power Pack” halftime trampoline slam dunk crew, as well as a 2016 appearance on television’s “American Ninja Warrior,” along with fellow Indy drivers Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan.
Newgarden’s progression as an athlete is a Winning Strategy of having fun with the process, while staying laser focused throughout the journey.
“My philosophy has always been to be well rounded,” Newgarden says. “I would like to be able to do whatever task anyone wants me to do. And so that means having great strength, having great strength, endurance and having good cardio. So whether they want me to run a marathon, triathlon or lift 225 over my head, I want to be able to do all of those things. Focusing on being well rounded is has really helped me inside the car.”
Josef Newgarden’s Winning Strategy
1. It’s OK to Find the Light Side of Serious Work
Personally, I’m not a huge social media fan, but it’s a necessary evil in this medium we all work in. It’s how you find out about different brands and personalities that you either like or dislike—it’s pretty much the main thing that people go through. So it’s absolutely a necessity if you’re going to showcase what your brand, personality, or help drive interest to your sport,
Unfortunately, it’s a big part of it, so we try to embrace it in a fun way. This was definitely a fun way to change the pace of the monotonous intensity that racing is—and I love that side of it, that’s, that’s why I’m in it. But people also want to see the other side of it, you know, they just want to see you know, what you’re like outside of that intense environment. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. Me and my teammate Scott McLaughlin made this YouTube show called Bus Bros. It was literally like a joke—even the title of the show was a joke. And it’s somehow caught on. People thought it was really entertaining and it became a cult following. And we just did it as a laugh.
Racing’s very serious. We show up to the race weekend and everyone’s very locked in on the process of practice qualifying. Leading up from Friday, Saturday, Sunday, it’s a long drag and it’s very intense. And we just wanted to break it up a little bit, have some fun across the weekend, do something lighthearted that was not too serious. And then you know, it ended up catching on and we just have been doing it now for the last year or so. It’s pretty stupid—they showcased in on the first episode of the show, people can go find it on the Internet.
Nothing’s really scripted. Scott likes to dress up in inflatables, and we go around on the streets and just interview random fans all the time. People seem to love that. It’s just kind of diving into the fun side of a race weekend
2. Treat Every Decision Like a Game-Changing Decision
I always tell people that you make 1,000 decisions in a race. But if you make one wrong decision, your race day can be over and ruined. You can take a potential winning result and maybe you finish top five. So you really can’t have one mistake, and that’s not just from the driver standpoint, it’s from everybody. It really is a team sport.
I know that through just having been a part of it for so many years, whether it’s strategy, it’s pitstops, it’s car prep. It all it all matters —you can’t have one thing that goes wrong. It can’t just be me driving the car perfectly on the day—even though I have to do that—we all have to execute. So it’s over 1000 decisions, if you will, and one of them can’t go wrong on race day. So the focus and the execution has to be pretty flawless.
You [need a] well prepped environment. You want to be as physically prepared so that you can be as mentally prepared—those go hand in hand. When you’re built to the best ability that you can, I think it gives you a better chance to win races more often.
There’s typically a moment in the race where it’s make or break, where maybe you didn’t start first—you started 10th. And you came in with a certain strategy and then all of a sudden the strategy flips because of an unforeseen yellow, and it jumbles up the field. You can go one way or change of strategy. There’s always like a make or break moment in there where you have to really capitalize on it. Maybe it’s an in lap. Maybe it’s an out lap or a specific pitstop. It’s like there’s a moment where the flip of the strategy is going to be initiated right now and you’ve got to nail that moment. And when you do, it can lead to you know, winning the race from maybe starting 10th or something. We’ve had a ton of those days.
3. Enjoy the Process, No Matter the Results
It’s very true. There’s a lot of times where, you know, things don’t work out, and maybe they should have. Everybody may not know the whole story. Like, we probably should’ve won the race on this day for these reasons or because of another set of reasons, it didn’t work out.
I think back on those on those days a lot and I come back to that I just love the process of racing. I really love it.
So yes, even though it hasn’t worked out at Indy, I enjoy going and diving back into the process every single year, just trying to perfect it a little bit more. There’s an element of luck and timing that naturally has to come with you and in racing—it’s just part of it, specifically in an event like Indianapolis. I think that’s it’s more critical at an event like that than say, your standard race. But regardless of how it works out, it’s fun to dive back into the process and try and you know, build a better weapon to fight with every year.
4. Josef Newgarden Maintains a Mamba Mentality
There’s much more similarities in team sports and Indy car than you would realize. I didn’t know that until I really got to the top level of motorsports. I was a traditional suburbs growing up just outside of Nashville. Typically in these environments you get into your stick and ball sports—baseball, basketball, football, hockey—and there’s a ton of similarities.
I think the team-building aspect of any sport is so applicable to racing. It’s the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter what position you are in a racing team, every position really matters. It takes everybody pulling together and doing a great job on the day to realize victory. And so you start building those team dynamics in which you understand how to work people and maximize not only yourself but maximize the individuals around you. I think that’s probably one of the most critical skill sets that you can learn to be successful in a sporting environment. And you learn that very early in stick and ball sports. You’re at least exposed to what that looks like or what challenges might be with trying to interact with teammates. And you have to be able to apply that, even excel at that when you’re at a professional level in motorsports.
Preparation is something that’s been instilled in me. I’ve really learned just by being in the environment and from a lot of the individuals that I’ve been able to work with, that you just it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, you know you can’t supplement preparation. It sounds a little bit cheesy and silly but it’s so true. I think someone who is super talented that doesn’t have the hard work can be beat by someone who’s not very talented but works crazy hard. But when you take someone who has a talent and you put the work ethic and the hard work behind it, it’s very, very difficult to beat that combination.
So if you’re lucky enough to have a bit of talent and whatever your chosen sport is, you know, then then you really should seize it and run with it and make the most of it.
5. Bench Press to Decompress
It’s a very personal answer, what may be true for me might not be true for everyone. I think you’ve got to find whatever that balance is that works for you as an individual. You’re the key to that. Everybody’s gonna have a different answer from me.
Personally, I’m very much an introvert, and it can be a very stressing environment when you show up to the racetrack just because there’s a lot of interaction. There’s a lot of interaction that I can’t avoid especially being the driver. Interaction as kind of the face of the team, one of the faces of the sport, in a lot of ways you have partners, fans, all sorts of individuals looking for time. And so, as an introvert and going through all that on a race weekend, I’ve got to personally decompress, just to reset myself. I can drain my energy tank really easily. I know how susceptible I am to it.
SO for me, it’s. not necessarily getting away from racing, I just need personal time. I don’t do anything too crazy. I’m a pretty normal guy, probably boring outside of racing. I like basic stuff. I love training. I’m competitive by nature, so if I’m competing in racing, I’ve got to be doing something filled with competition when I’m away from the racetrack. That’s just my MO, so training has actually been kind of a good vice for me when I don’t have that outlet to go racing. That’s kind of where I pour my time and energy into.