Josef Newgarden is riding high as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver.
Three wins in the past two seasons, fourth in the current point standings, more popular than ever. But it hasn’t always been that way and Newgarden has a 6-foot-3 angel to thank in part.
The 25-year-old Tennessean remembers well what he considers the low point of his racing career. It was his rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, driving for the small Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team that through a later merger evolved into the Ed Carpenter Racing outfit he drives for today.
Fresh off an Indy Lights championship the year before, Newgarden and SFHR struggled for results in 2012. His 11th-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg would be Newgarden’s best of the year. Early on, he had three straight finishes of 23rd or lower. Midway through the schedule, there didn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel.
“There was a lot going on,” Newgarden recalled. “It was a new car, it was a new engine package. I was a rookie, didn't have a teammate. We were really a small team.
“About halfway through that year, it got really difficult at certain points to have faith and motivation in what you were doing. I just remember thinking, ‘What is going on? I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what we need from a global picture, whether that be a team thing, from a car setup standpoint.’
“I would say that was probably the lowest point.”
So how did a befuddled newcomer to the Verizon IndyCar Series, then 21, keep it together and turn it around? Like others in so many walks of life, he turned to a support group. In Newgarden’s case, that was fellow racers, all of whom have stared at the same adversity at some juncture of their careers.
“Sarah Fisher was hugely supportive to me, obviously,” he said.
And there was the gentle giant, Justin Wilson. Universally known in the INDYCAR paddock as perhaps the nicest guy around, always willing to listen and offer advice, Newgarden sought out Wilson and is the better for it now.
“I remember talking to Justin a lot,” he said. “Justin was one of those great guys that just didn't care about hiding things from you. He would just help you because he was a good dude. Justin was great for that.”
As the one-year anniversary of Wilson’s untimely death approaches in less than two weeks, Newgarden’s comments provide another reminder of the lasting effect that the seven-time Indy car race winner and friend of all continues to have on the INDYCAR community.