until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


‘I’m going to fence you’ – Why Newgarden was so angry after win

by Jack Benyon
9 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

If you’re a rival driver and you wronged Josef Newgarden on Saturday, you’d better find him and apologise before Sunday second Iowa Speedway IndyCar race because he is on the warpath.

The message is simple. If you race him in a way he thinks is dirty while being lapped, he will put you into the wall.

Newgarden won his third race of the season, and joined a group of only four drivers to win four straight IndyCar oval races since 1956 – according to NBC’s stat guru Russ Thompson Newgarden he joins AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr and Nigel Mansell – after victory at Gateway last year, then in 2023 at Texas Motor Speedway the Indianapolis 500 and on Saturday at Iowa.

Despite taking a breakthrough victory amid a rollercoaster year, Newgarden jumped out of the car and immediately said to Penske team-mate and runner-up Scott McLaughlin “oh my God, f**king people…”.

It’s clear he was upset with how he had been raced. In the post-race press conference Newgarden admitted his frustration and it even felt like he raised his voice while putting a very clear and succinct warning out there to his rivals.

“If you’re fighting with people around you, seventh, eighth, ninth place, you’re all fighting, you’re within your right to fight as hard as possible,” said Newgarden.

“I think, the way the rule was written, it’s also legal for them to fight to the death to stay on the lead lap in front of the leader.

“It is legal, I’m just telling you, you’re not making any friends when you do it.

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“There’s 20 laps to go in the race, and I was getting driven like it was literally to the death for the end of the Indy 500. It was just crazy. I couldn’t believe the way people were mirror-driving.

“I’ve never seen it that bad here.

“Normally if you’re the leader, you’re not getting a handout, but you’re at least getting the courtesy that you are the leader and they’re about to get lapped.

“You don’t have to pull over, but just don’t be aggressive and weave in front of the leader, block the leader, chop the leader.

“Like there’s just a point where you’ve got to understand that that comes back around.

“If you do that to someone, I’m going to fence you the next time I see you. If you’re the leader the next time, I am going to do you so dirty if you did that to me.

“It’s common sense. Everybody in the paddock knows it, and for whatever reason, there’s just people who just can’t get it.”

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Newgarden said he needed to be “better equipped to handle it” on Sunday and would be watching videos to put him in a better situation to deal with the drivers he has in mind.

McLaughlin added “I think he was getting choked up a little bit”.

“There’s a lot of guys out there that were racing the leader very hard, mirror driving, and just at times it was quite dangerous.”

Asked if he would name any names, McLaughlin said “not in the media” but added “we’ll go see them tonight”.

Newgarden also declined to mention any names specifically.

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The problem is particularly acute at Iowa because of the nature of IndyCar’s shortest track – just 0.78 miles long, with the best cars lapping it in under 19 seconds.

While it’s not possible to rewatch Newgarden’s full onboard from the race, The Race checked back through the available footage of the 250-lap event back to try to identify some of Newgarden’s nemesis.

Dale Coyne Racing’s 12th-place finisher David Malukas certainly raced Newgarden particularly hard around 30 laps to go, at one point forcing Newgarden to check up in dirty air which cost him a large part of his lead at that point.

With 20 laps to go, championship leader Alex Palou baulked Newgarden, although it was when Palou came from the bottom of the track at Turn 4 and Newgarden got a slingshot around the top of the track, so that instance was probably a case of Palou being caught out by Newgarden’s speed. They had raced well together earlier in the race. Palou finished one lap down in eighth.

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Later on, Newgarden caught a gaggle of Jack Harvey, Scott Dixon and Kyle Kirkwood which was ultimately what erased his gap to McLaughlin. Dixon and Kirkwood were fighting for sixth while Harvey was a further two laps back on the way to 18th.

As Dixon and Harvey went side-by-side, Newgarden had to slow down to avoid losing control.

Newgarden moved past Kirkwood and caught another group with Callum Ilott (finished 15th, three laps down) the car immediately ahead of him, but that group also raced hard and Newgarden then caught a slow-moving Santino Ferrucci at the exit of Turn 2. Foyt driver Ferrucci finished nine laps down in 26th after being caught behind a pitlane collision between team-mate Benjamin Pedersen and Andretti’s Devlin DeFrancesco.

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That bunched things up and Kirkwood repassed Newgarden in an aggressive move as he tried to reclaim his lap, which could have been vital if a caution came out.

Newgarden didn’t name any names so it’s possible none of these incidents were the ones that aggravated him, those were just the ones we could see watching the broadcast.

It’s not the first time this season there has controversy over backmarkers and behaviour when being lapped. Pedersen came under heavy criticism for battling race winner Palou at Mid-Ohio while being lapped and then fought other frontrunning drivers extremely aggressively.

It’s likely the Foyt team was advising Pedersen over when and who to fight based on wider race and championship circumstances, so it isn’t all Pedersen’s fault, but he’ll struggle to get a break from any of the drivers he held up when he’s racing them in the near future at least.

And it’s important to reassert that Newgarden accepts this situation is within the rules. There’s a clear separation between American racing and the European style on how to handle being lapped. The concept that lapped cars can fight their corner rather than having to jump out of the way for blue flags is one of the treasured rules of the series – rightly or wrongly depending on who you ask.

When the Pedersen incident happened, The Race’s Matt Beer – a follower of IndyCar and CART racing for 30 years and a passionate defender of drivers’ freedom to fight the leaders (responsibly) when being lapped in American motorsport – explained his opinion in this piece.

“To me, this is just about policing poor driving rather than the concept of the rules around being lapped,” Beer wrote at the time.

“It’s asking a lot of stewards’ nuanced handling of incidents, but there’s a difference between a driver making responsible efforts to defend – or regain – their place on the lead lap and blocking/clumsy racing that would be penalty-worthy if it was for an actual position so is unacceptable regardless of whether the car’s being lapped or not.”

That’s all true and I agree. Where this gets tricky is that there is an etiquette to how you race a corner on an oval.

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Sudden movements or certain lines can totally withdraw air from your opponent’s front wing and put them out of the race. Ovals are more nuanced when it comes to driving standards and there are fewer rules to regulate against ill-mannered and even dangerous driving on an oval.

The sad part about all this is it detracted from a brilliant Newgarden performance.

He entered this race third in the standings but 117 points behind Palou, who finished the race eighth, boosting Newgarden to be Palou’s closest rival 98 points behind.

It was Newgarden’s fifth win at the venue. But that’s a mixed blessing. There’s no other track on the IndyCar calendar where expectations are so high on a single driver to win.

His points deficit to Palou has only exacerbated that this weekend, to the stage that it’s a surprise it isn’t crippling Newgarden and his team again.

“There’s a pressure that’s on us, I know when we show up here,” he said, describing the level of expectation and adding it’s similar for his Penske team at the Indy 500.

He says the bigger thing rather than just pressure this weekend is that the season has been such a struggle, with the Indy 500 win the highlight but plenty of other results going against him and Penske.

Iowa 2023 Indycar

Repeating the same points swing on Sunday – where Newgarden starts seventh and Palou is 12th – would bring the gap down to 70 points with five races and 270 points on offer.

“We can’t afford a bad weekend anymore,” Newgarden added.

“He [Palou] can, but we’ve got to be pretty much perfect, which when it’s like that, it just almost doesn’t matter. Like what’s going to be is going to be. I think a lot of people are in this mindset. They’re just trying to win races.

“It’s kind of a good way to go about it because you can’t just take little bites out of him. It’s just not going to work.

“You’ve got to be hitting it with a hammer and hoping that fate kind of swings back your way. So I hope we get that, but there’s just no telling if that’s going to happen.”

Palou said he expected Newgarden to win again on Sunday when asked if he’d expected to lose some of his points lead in race one.

“I was counting on that,” he said on Saturday night of Newgarden winning.

“We’re counting on that tomorrow, too. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t instead of if he does.”

The race’s sole caution didn’t work out for Palou as he’d gone long in the first stint and reckoned he could make the end in one more stop had it run green, but eighth was still a strong finish.

He’s confident Ganassi can make a step forward for race two but is also wary that every team is capable of making tweaks after Saturday’s race so it can be a case of the teams cancelling each other out by all improving a similar amount.

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Small tweaks will certainly not be enough to beat Newgarden.

This is turning out to be another year where too much goes against a driver who has now finished second in the championship for three seasons in a row.

A fourth such result would be ridiculous for a double champion driver performing at the level of Josef Newgarden, who somehow manages to be a fantastic team player alongside his phenomenal individual success.

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