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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Josef Newgarden

Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 12: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)

Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways

MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2016. Next up on the heels of a career year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently signed for Team Penske for 2017.

Josef Newgarden, No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 4th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 4 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 313 Laps Led, 9.4 Avg. Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

I’d compare Josef Newgarden to the stock market at the moment. “Why do you make that comparison, TDZ?” you ask. Because his stock is the highest it’s ever been in the paddock and now everyone is buying, but his 2016 season was so volatile from a results standpoint that it was the IndyCar equivalent of going up 300 points on the New York Stock Exchange one day, then going down another 200 the next one.

Newgarden had four podium finishes in 2016 and also, four finishes of 21st or worse in a 22-car field. So balance those out and how he got to a career-best fourth in points lies in the remaining eight races this year, and those saw seven top-10 finishes.

That he did so without a regular full-time teammate – it rotated between team owner Ed Carpenter, rookie Spencer Pigot or testing fill-in and ECR third driver JR Hildebrand – spoke to how well Newgarden performed this season. Newgarden’s a humble soul who keeps his cards close to the vest, jokes he “just wants a seat” when he probably figures he is the hottest commodity in the series, and then extends thanks to Hildebrand for being as part of the effort as he was this year.

But Newgarden’s year was one that firmly delivered on the promise that those of us who’ve followed him since the start knew he was capable of. This is the driver who packs the rare combination of speed, humility, personality, great racecraft and, as we saw this year, determination.

That Texas crash with good friend and longtime competitor Conor Daly probably would have knocked most people out of action. But Newgarden was back in a car, 10 days later, collarbone and hand injury and all, at Road America, fighting his way to eighth place after a great battle with Juan Pablo Montoya. A couple weeks later, he delivered one of the greatest ass-kickings in IndyCar history in Iowa – leading 282 of 300 laps almost seemed like he’d missed out on a few.

And three months later, Newgarden has signed to replace Montoya at Team Penske.

All the while this year, he was consistent in the races where he didn’t have a cartoon anvil chasing him around. He’s proved that after five years, he’s ready for his jump up to a bigger team in 2017, with Team Penske. He helped make Ed Carpenter Racing better just as Carpenter made him better, but now he’s primed for that final step from top-five points finisher to championship contender.

Follow @TonyDiZinno