until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


'I failed' - Newgarden's distressed response to shock IndyCar DSQ

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Josef Newgarden was choking back tears as he apologised to the IndyCar paddock and fans following his St Petersburg race disqualification, calling it “crushing”, “embarrassing” and saying that “I failed my team miserably”.

Shockwaves were propelled through the IndyCar paddock on Wednesday when it announced that Team Penske’s Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin would be disqualified from a race held a month ago - the season-opening Grand Prix of St Petersburg - because of using push-to-pass on restarts.

The team blamed a mistake in leaving incorrect software in the car from a pre-season hybrid test for allowing the illegal push-to-pass use.

The third Penske driver Will Power was docked 10 points for having had the same software setting - but he never used push-to-pass illegally.

Both McLaughlin and Power released statements to clarify their positions earlier this week, with McLaughlin saying he’d only used it illegally for 1.9 seconds and wasn’t expecting the boost because the rules didn’t allow it.

Double IndyCar champion and reigning Indy 500 winner Newgarden came in for criticism for not making any sort of statement, but he said it was important for him to speak to the media directly - which he did ahead of this weekend’s race at Barber.

In what can be only described as a spectacular 35-minute-or-so press conference, a visibly emotional Newgarden made an opening statement and then took questions from the media.

He took full responsibility for his actions, saying: “Today I want to be held accountable for what I did and the actions I took, and I want to tell people the truth.

“Those are the two things I wanted to achieve this morning. If I do that, I can leave here and feel good about anything going forward.”

He added: “If there's anything I wanted to come and say, too, I want to deeply apologise to our fans, our partners, my team-mates, the competitors that I race against, anybody that's in our community.

“I’ve worked my entire career to hold myself to an incredibly high standard. Clearly I've fallen very short of that in this respect.”

He added that he had been thinking “non-stop” about facing the media and that the prospect woke him up at 3am on Thursday.

Did he know what he was doing?

Josef Newgarden, Penske, IndyCar

Yes, is the simple answer.

“There's only one person sitting in the car,” he said, “it’s just me.

“So that responsibility and the use of the push-to-pass in the correct manner falls completely on me. With that regard, I failed my team miserably.”

Later, he said: “It's nothing you're trying to hide from. I know exactly when I pushed the button.

"I feel it every time. It's a very obvious thing.”

So what's the explanation?

Clearly the push-to-pass wasn't legal to use at the time, but Newgarden chose to activate it. Why did he think that was OK?

“The tricky thing about this whole situation is I didn't know I did anything wrong until Monday after Long Beach. It's the first time I heard that I broke rules,” he said, struggling to get his words out as his emotions clearly fought with him.

“You guys can call me every name in the book - you can call me incompetent, call me an idiot, call me an a*****e, call me stupid, whatever you want to call me, but I'm not a liar.

“The story that I know, which is the truth, is almost too convenient to be believable. So to answer your question, no, I didn't leave St. Pete thinking we pulled something over on somebody. I didn't know that we did something wrong until this week.

“The key difference on the #2 car, which is important to understand, is that somehow we convinced ourselves that there was a rule change to restarts specifically with overtake usage.

“You say, 'How do you come up with this? It's never happened before'.

“The only place that this got introduced was with the Thermal exhibition race [between St Pete and Long Beach].

“It's the only time, in my time in IndyCar, where we've actually had a legitimate legal change of the push-to-pass system, where it's going to be operable at a time other than at the alt start/finish line. It was going to be able to be used in qualifying, too. There was a lot of discussion about it.

“We genuinely believed and convinced ourselves that at St. Pete, the rule was now you can use it immediately on restarts, you don't have to wait till the alt start/finish line. It's going to be available immediately.”

Newgarden added that he even wanted his team to remind him of this ‘rule change’ in Long Beach so he didn’t forget, and that he did the same thing while leading in the race at Long Beach because at that point he wasn’t aware of his and Penske’s mistakes.

Andretti's Colton Herta has already reportedly rejected this explanation in response.

What did Roger Penske say?

Penske IndyCar

The team boss - and also owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway - had told the Associated Press he was embarrassed earlier this week.

Penske really doesn’t like scandals.

“I have spoken to him once,” admitted Newgarden. “He did not take it well, whatsoever, as you can imagine. I was interrogated at first.

“I don't want to speak on his behalf, but I've not met somebody with higher integrity than that man. I mean that.

“Yeah, it wasn't taken well.”

One major factor behind this story is it has called Penske simultaneous ownership of team and championship into question again, putting that storyline in the media for fans.

Penske won’t like that either.

Why didn’t Penske confess after St Pete?

Newgarden said he made his notes after the race but didn’t pay attention to push-to-pass data on other cars - he said he expected they were all using it when he was.

When asked how his Chevrolet data engineer didn’t notice, he said he wasn’t surprised, mainly because “no one genuinely believed we had done anything wrong”.

How Penske's rivals have reacted

One of the things that has made this so hard to believe for fans and people in the paddock is the rule breach had happened a month prior - and was discovered a race weekend and a half of action later.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric’s explanation that the wrong software was to blame following testing in the 2024 pre-season had been met with opposition from rivals in the team paddock, although we don’t know who, because Indy Star agreed to hide their identity to speak freely.

“The statement that Cindric put out is a bold-faced lie, and everyone knows that,” it quoted one owner as saying, while another was quoted as describing the explanation as "so blatant that I get offended" before launching into an expletive-filled tirade.

McLaren’s Zak Brown chipped in publicly on Twitter and conveyed his own heavy scepticism, saying: “How does that saying go… 'I was born at night…but not last night'."

It is hard to understand why only one car on what is described as the most detail-oriented team in the paddock has made this error, and why no other team member pointed out the error to Newgarden.

It’s also tricky to add up the circumstances. For this to happen, it needed the exact mix of Newgarden believing there was a rule change, and Penske making the software that made it available.

But again, the core argument against any purposeful foul play on Penske’s part is - why would it game the push-to-pass system and then not tell the drivers to use it, when they are the only ones who can activate it?

“The truth is, somehow we got that [being able to use push-to-pass on restarts] mixed up, it got entangled with the mistake [with the software],” says Newgarden. “It's created some ridiculously unbelievable storyline now.”

You can see why this story is so complicated, and you better believe everyone in the paddock has their own opinion!

Could there be more penalties?

Of course, once this incident became public knowledge, people began to speculate and trawl through onboard footage to try and work out if this had happened earlier than St Pete - even if Penske maintains the reason is because of incorrect software left on the car from 2024 pre-season hybrid testing.

Speaking to Racer, Cindric said that any previous instances had been investigated and cleared.

Newgarden said he could understand why people had a hard time believing his and Penske's explanations, adding he didn’t think even IndyCar president Jay Frye was convinced.

“If this guy has a hard time believing it, how is anybody going to believe it?” he said.

He added: “After today, I'm not going to concern myself with it because I just can't control it.”

Newgarden now has to focus on re-assembling his title push - he’s lost the lead of the championship and dropped to 11th - at Barber, and he’s also in the middle of a free agency situation whereby all the noise last weekend in Long Beach was that he was expected to re-sign with Penske despite plenty of interest elsewhere.

It’s hard to imagine the driver fighting back tears is going to be in the best shape possible to re-focus - but he has at least now succeeded in facing the media address he had thought about so much head on.

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