Josef Newgarden insists he’s not thinking beyond the final four Verizon IndyCar Series races, but the Ed Carpenter Racing driver could emerge as one of the more sought-after free agents this offseason.
The 25-year-old Tennessean has followed up a two-win 2015 season with his best series run. He’s fourth in points heading to this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway after finishing a career-best seventh in the standings last year.
Newgarden had arguably the most dominant win of any driver this season at the Iowa Corn 300 in July, which came just two races after he broke his right clavicle and right hand in a Texas Motor Speedway crash. He also finished a career-best third in the Indianapolis 500.
Drivers and race teams rarely discuss how rides could change in the offseason, so it’s no surprise Newgarden and Carpenter haven’t shed much light on what could happen.
“There’s always movement. Contracts expire,” Newgarden said. “There’s always going to be movement inherently in the series. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to really think about that stuff until the season ends, and we’ve got a pretty good offseason with the length between Sonoma (the Sept. 18 season finale) and St. Petersburg (the 2017 season opener in March). So I get the luxury, which I think is a luxury, to be able to just focus on your own championship until it’s done and then see what’s going on after that.”
But one of Newgarden’s competitors and friends, James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, offered an interesting perspective on the topic.
“There’s a reason Josef does one-year deals every single season,” Hinchcliffe said. “Josef has turned down multiple-year deals, which in this sport, you don’t do. He knows the interest is there. That’s why he keeps doing those deals. He’s waiting for the call (from a super team).
“If you look at Team Penske, Helio (Castroneves) and Juan Pablo (Montoya) are up (contract-wise). As long as Juan Pablo Montoya is having fun, he’ll keep going. He can still win races and win Indy 500s – he did last year. So there’s no reason for him to leave. And Helio is a threat in the Indy 500 every year.”
What about Chip Ganassi, whose team is losing its 27-year sponsorship with Target?
“(Scott) Dixon has got a car as long as he wants it,” Hinchcliffe said of the four-time series champion. “The No. 10 car (Tony Kanaan) is interesting. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
Points leader Simon Pagenaud and his Team Penske crew chief Ben Bretzman recently admitted they were aware of team owner Roger Penske’s interest years before they joined the most successful team in Indy car history last year.
Carpenter, the series’ only driver/owner, concedes he can’t prevent Newgarden from accepting a ride with a larger, better-funded team.
“Stuff shakes out,” Carpenter said. “The way I look at it, if Roger really wants to hire someone, he’s going to go hire them. I don’t know if Chip is exactly the same way or not. If Roger has a driver he wants to go get, it’s going to be hard for me to keep him from getting what he wants. At the same time, I’m just trying to do a good job. I think Josef and the team work well together. If it’s somewhere he wants to stay, we’d be glad to have him. If he wants to move on, we’d move on as well.
“We have some rights within our current agreement, but it’s one of those things where it’s really hard to focus on it right now in the heat of the battle. My approach with Josef that we’ve had and that we continue to have is just try to do the best job we can and show him we’re capable of giving him the same opportunity he could get anywhere.
“I feel like we’ve done a good job of that,” Carpenter continued. “He almost won the pole at Indy, was in the hunt to win, we’ve had as dominant a race as anyone has ever had at Iowa. If we hadn’t been dealing with injuries, we’d probably be even more in the championship hunt than we already are, and we’re still in the hunt.”
Newgarden has always said he’s enjoyed working with Carpenter the past two seasons. Aside from the success, a big part of that is because Carpenter is more than just an owner.
“We do well here,” Newgarden said. “I’ve got a great boss. Ed is kind of a good friend. It’s an odd dynamic having him as a boss because I think of him more as a friend than a boss, which is a good thing. We have a good working relationship because of that. He’s also my teammate, and teammates generally become closer than a boss-driver relationship. It’s a different dynamic.
“They’ve given me more than I need to be successful and do a good job. There’s really nothing for me to gripe about. I’ve got a great owner and a great team.”
Should Newgarden receive offers, Carpenter said all he can do is reiterate his team’s case.
“I could get myself all worked up about who might want to sign him,” Carpenter said. “At the end of the day, we all have our own issues and have to do a good job. If I’m worrying about that, I’ve got my eye off the ball.
“I don’t know if there’s interest or not. I know Roger has a couple guys who are up and I don’t know if they renewed yet or not. Chip obviously has things going on with his drivers and sponsors. So I don’t know where everybody stands. I know where we stand, and that’s all I’m really focusing on.”