Josef Newgarden comes into the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season as the defending champion. For the second time in the last three years, the Team Penske driver will run the No. 1 Chevrolet — the number donned for the previous year’s champion.
Now, Newgarden will attempt to become the first driver since Dario Franchitti in nearly a decade (2009-2011) to win back-to-back championships. If he can do so, it would be his third in the last five years.
“Not for me I don’t think,” Newgarden said on if he has any more pressure coming into 2020 as the defending champ. “Similar to last year. We have a similar approach every season of trying to prepare as best as possible. We do a nice analysis together from the previous year. Really all of us, Simon (Pagenaud), Will (Power), me, we sat down with the team in the off-season. I think as the drivers, we try to get together and push in a common direction.
“We all feel pretty similar about where our weaknesses were, strengths were. We try and improve on that, just make ourselves better in all areas for the next season.
“We have the same goals. We need to try to win the Indianapolis 500 as a team, same thing with the drivers championship. It will go in that order.
“Prep is the same. A little bit more pressure I guess to try to do it again, but the preparation doesn’t change.”
Newgarden, notes that the pressure overall should be the same as last year in general. The same core top five or six drivers have been fairly stable in his eyes. He thinks that you can maybe add a couple of rookies (Colton Herta/Felix Rosenqvist) from last year to the mix but it’s the same core group fighting for wins up front again in 2020.
“I think sort of the typical core group, you’re always looking at Simon and Will,” Newgarden continued. “I know my teammates are always very, very strong. Then (Scott) Dixon is always a consistent threat. (Aleander) Rossi, as well. I think Rossi has established himself in the conversation consistently.
“You have kind of that core group of guys that are fighting in the top five, top six, which is very tough. It’s more than just having one person to look at. Like I said, you have the intangibles of people that are very capable of just pushing into that. I think we’ll have some new guys in that conversation this year, without a doubt.”
The difference this year though will have a major different over any other year and that’s the debut of the Aeroscreen. Newgarden, has had the chance to test the car with it on it this past offseason and says that it’s vastly changed in terms of the cars’ characteristics between 2019 to now.
“Yeah, it’s very different, I would say,” the Tennessee native said of the new safety device. “It’s reacting differently to different tracks so far. I’ve had a taste of it at Richmond, COTA and Sebring. Those are all pretty different places. So you get these small characteristic differences everywhere.
“Sebring was quite interesting. It was very fun I think for all three of us to sample that and see what it was all about. But the moral of the story is I think there will be definite differences with the car. It’s going to want certain things from a setup standpoint, certain things from a driving standpoint. We’re not the same as 2019. I think it always brings an opportunity for us to try to figure that out quicker than the rest of the pack.
“We’re working pretty hard as a team right now to make sure we come out of the gates the best with the new opportunity and try to get on top of it the quickest. It’s always fun to have that.
“As a driver you like change, the opportunity to try and shine at something new. Yeah, we just need to make sure we’re on top of it when we get to St. Pete next week.”
Speaking of the season opener at St. Pete, Newgarden not only is the defending series champion, but he’s the defending race winner on the Florida street course too. Also, since Newgarden joined Team Penske in 2017, he’s won 11 of his 14 career victories, 19 of his 29 podiums, seven of his eight poles scored and 1,365 of his 2,044 laps led.