In a wide-open season filled with parity, how did Newgarden not win the title with five race wins, six podium finishes, and the most laps led this year? The Team Penske driver dominated many of the events on the calendar this season, and even scored a runner-up finish at Laguna Seca where he started in 25th position.
The four-stop strategy in Sunday's season finale forced him to make aggressive moves throughout the race, which were incredibly entertaining to watch. It nearly paid off too, had it not been for Alex Palou and his rocket ship.
"We tried today, for sure," Newgarden said. "We gave our best, as we always do. Alex was tough to catch. I think he just was incredible, particularly on the last couple stints. He did a really amazing job. It was going to be hard to get to him. We got all the way to second but he seemed a little out of reach, so tremendous job by them."
Going through all of that and coming up just a little short certainly has to be frustrating. That is just the way this season went for Newgarden and his team.
"I’m happy we were able to fight back to where we did. It was a tough day, and we knew we had to fight. Ultimately we’ve come up short in this championship. We’ve got to be in a different position next year and fight a lot harder so that we can hopefully be in a much more favorable position coming into this weekend, and I believe we can do that."
After winning his second IndyCar title in 2019, Newgarden has now finished runner-up in the championship three consecutive seasons. In fact, the last time he finished outside of the top-five in the final standings was the 2015 season when he finished 7th with Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing.
"We have been in the fight the last four or five years. We have maintained our form. Consistency has been up and down at times, some in our control and some out of our control. That’s been the deciding factor and that will always determine the championship." Unfortunately for Josef, consistency is exactly what they lacked this season.
“It’s been a really tough year. It’s been good in a lot of ways, but it’s also been really negative in a lot of others. I’m excited for a reset, excited to come back next year, and I know we’ve got the team to do the job.”
It was a feast-or-famine type of year for Newgarden. He would either finish up front, or near the back of the field. While there was only one DNF on his resume this season, it was a massive one.
After dominating the first race of the doubleheader weekend at Iowa, Newgarden was about to duplicate that when it happened. On Lap 235, while leading the race, the right-rear shock on his No. 2 Chevrolet broke and he slammed hard into the outside wall. With 148 laps led, the guy that was untouchable all weekend suddenly found himself with a 24th place finish.
The crash left Newgarden a little woozy, and he actually collapsed at the track after the race, hitting his head. He was examined by the medical team, but was able to get back in the car the following weekend at Indianapolis. While he salvaged a top-five finish on the IMS road course, he knows he left valuable points on the table at Iowa.
“It was going to take an Army to keep me away from here,” Newgarden said after that race. “I knew if we weren’t in this race it was going to be very difficult to stay in this championship fight. I knew we had to be in the race.”
Newgarden was awarded just nine points in that second Iowa race, where it would have been 52 had he held on for the win. He ended up losing the championship by just 16 points.
Much like Scott Dixon's devastating speeding penalty in the Indianapolis 500, this is something that Josef will have to live with, but try to move on from. "It was just a really tough year timing-wise, so mentally it was a little bit of a drain because the more success you find, the more you demand perfection from each race, so the more taxing it is when it’s not going well."
"That’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s IndyCar racing. Things go your way one moment and they go against you the next, and you just kind of ride the waves. One weekend we would be winning the race, next weekend it was going sideways for one reason or another."
Despite the disappointing finish to the season, Newgarden is already focused on 2023. "I'm very optimistic I'm going to recharge and come back and hit all these people harder. Believe me, I'll be ready to go when we come to St Pete and I'll look forward to it."
“We came back, we fought, we nearly got there. I’m proud of the effort.” Even in defeat, Newgarden is always thinking about the big picture. “The ultimate goal is to win a championship for Team Penske, and we did that.”