Josef Newgarden’s Indy 500 win part of historic weekend for Team Penske

NEW YORK — Josef Newgarden won the Indianapolis 500 on a dramatic last-lap pass Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Coming in his 12th start in the sport’s biggest race, Newgarden added to an already impressive resume that had 26 series wins and two championships.

He also didn’t just win the 19th Indy 500 for team owner Roger Penske, Newgarden and Ryan Blaney combined for the first Indy 500-Coke 600 sweep for Team Penske as Blaney won the rain-delayed 600-mile event Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Newgarden sat down with FOX Sports to discuss his win, Blaney’s win, being the first U.S.-born driver since 2016 to capture the Indy 500 and any future plans in NASCAR. 

[Related: For Kyle Larson, preparations underway for ‘nerve-racking’ 2024 Indy 500 run]

Here is an edited version of that conversation:

Has there been anything over the last 48 hours that has surprised you — somebody who has contacted you, or some emotion that you had, or some interaction that you had that was just something that was far beyond what you could have envisioned?

No. I don’t have a good liner on something that’s hit me unknowingly. But I think all the cliches are true. It means more to win this race. You can’t describe it. People always ask you to envision what it’s like to win the 500. And until you do it, you just don’t know. And I now know that’s true. You will have no idea unless you’re lucky enough to win it. And it is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in sport. So for me, it sunk in immediately. People asked, ‘Has it sunk in yet?’ I’m telling you, it sunk in 100 feet before I crossed the line. I couldn’t believe it. It’s so difficult to win that damn race. Everything’s got to be perfect. I could have a perfect day myself. But if we’re not perfect as a team, it’s not going to work out. And when it does, it’s very special.

You said you were lucky to win it? After 12 years of working and a career at work, how much of it is luck?

I’m definitely a little bit of a believer in the luck of circumstance. I’ve been fortunate to be put in positions that have allowed me to elevate the sport and to fight for this. Indy makes you feel like you’re on the chopping block every year that you don’t win. I probably shouldn’t have had to feel that way. But to drive for Penske and to be there year after year and not win. Every year you’re there, you feel like your time is being minimized and your opportunities are about to be ripped away from you, when that’s really not the reality.

I asked Ryan Blaney last night if he had talked to you and he said he had texted you but you understandably hadn’t texted him back yet. Although he said you might have texted him back after he won but he hadn’t gotten his phone yet. So have you’ve talked to him or texted?

We were texting — you probably were an hour early before we got to chat — we texted last night. And I hadn’t gotten back to nearly anybody that had texted me. But when I saw Ryan win, I was like, ‘He’s one of the first people I want to text.’ I’ve been kind of heartbroken for Ryan over what’s this [winless] drought been 58-60 races? (59). Everyone just kept harping on this number that was growing, and you could see it with Ryan that it was really starting to weigh on him. And he’d been so close the last 59 races — he had been close multiple times. And I’ve been cheering him on this year and was really hoping that he could just break through and get another win so he didn’t have to answer the questions. … To share this weekend together, it made it extra special because I didn’t realize Team Penske had never done the double as a team. I thought that had happened before. There isn’t many stats that Team Penske doesn’t have.

Your stories are kind of similar in the sense of being heartbroken — did you commiserate together?

There’s probably an unspoken commiseration. There’s such a mutual respect there. I’m a huge fan of Ryan and what he does. … I want the world for him. I want him to do well. I think he’s an incredible race-car driver. I can empathize when you have races that look like they’re going to work out and they just continually fall short for one reason or another. I just know how difficult that heartbreak is and so I wanted it for him just as much as I’m sure he wanted it for himself.

He also kind of copied your celebration (of going into the stands)?

I loved that. Ryan is one of the most athletic, skinny dudes I’ve ever met in my life. He’s super athletic and for him to see the Indy 500 and say, ‘I want to do the same thing,’ it was an honor for me to see him do the same deal. I love to share that with him.

Does he have your abs? (Newgarden’s abs were a focal point of social media following a recent docuseries)

Blaney is sneaky. He’s like super fit, super athletic, but he’s a small guy — he’s a little more wiry than me. He doesn’t pack the muscle. But, man, if you compete with Ryan at anything, he is probably going to kick your ass.

Can you parlay this into any sort of Cup Series oneoff?

I would love to do a Cup race. I have tremendous respect for the NASCAR side. I really like the camaraderie we’re seeing in motorsports now — it’s fantastic that Kyle Larson is going to come over and run the 500 (next year). He’s a tremendous race-car driver. … No one from the pure IndyCar side has done the double (of the 500 and the 600) since Tony (Stewart). I would love to be in that position. Maybe I’ve got to do a couple more things for RP (Roger Penske) to sign off on that. But if I had the opportunity, I’d be all for it. I’m a huge NASCAR fan and would love to join the group.

You’re the first U.S. born driver to win the 500 since 2016. … Does that mean something? And is it important for the series here in the United States?

It is important. Having strong American talent representing in the sport is critical. We’ve got to be cultivating and giving opportunities to young drivers that are capable and that want to work hard from this country. But what is true to IndyCar’s DNA is having drivers from everywhere across the world that are the best at what they do. And so I wouldn’t want to see just a field of Americans. That’s not part of the DNA of IndyCar racing. So I love the fact that we get excited when an American wins, but I like that an America does it on a global stage with some of the best drivers from everywhere.

And maybe more people know you’re from Nashville?

Yeah. I think a lot of people learned I was from Tennessee, which is cool. It’s great. People love that story.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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