The assimilation of Josef Newgarden into Team Penske inevitably has taken an off-track turn toward teasing.
It was to be expected, given his energetic, engaging personality. Newgarden likes to laugh. So, too, do teammates Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves — when they’re not plotting a course for the powerhouse team’s next success.
One of the first public salvos came in April during Chevrolet’s manufacturer test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when Power displayed his well-known dry wit.
“Josef is definitely not fitting in,” Power said of his new teammate. “It’s a real problem. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. He’s just not a fit for the team. I don’t know what else I can say.”
Power’s brother, Damien, is a stand-up comic (check out his 2014 bit on YouTube about Will), which means Will Power has learned some tricks of the trade. The driver has learned his brother’s skill in delivering a punchline without cracking a smile and giving so much as a hint to the joke.
Newgarden, hired by Roger Penske this season after winning three races in two years for Ed Carpenter Racing, broke out in a hearty laugh when listening to Power’s comment. It’s become quite apparent that the opposite is true, especially after Newgarden won in his third Team Penske start in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First on April 23.
“Will is something else,” Newgarden said. “He’s the weirdest guy I know, but he’s also the most fun to be around. I enjoy Will so much. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great dude to hang out with, but he’s just weird.”
Pagenaud, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, won’t deprive himself of an opportunity to join the give-and-take banter. What most don’t see beyond team mystique and a track record for excellence is the comedic camaraderie that develops between drivers. As serious as they are about racing, they genuinely enjoy each other, too.
“He’s actually a really nice character,” Pagenaud said of Newgarden. “He’s got a good sense of humor as well, almost as good as mine. I’m excited about the future. We’re a good group. We do have a lot of fun. It doesn’t get to be seen outside the truck much, but we do have a lot of fun, all four of us working together. He’s doing a great job with it.”
It wasn’t long ago that Pagenaud was the newcomer, wide-eyed and pinching himself about landing a 2015 ride with legendary owner Roger Penske after winning four races in two years with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Newgarden’s awestruck observations about joining such a prolific operation are the same statements Pagenaud used to convey.
“It’s a big place,” Pagenaud said of Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina. “You walk into this place and everything is shiny and everybody is polished. It was always my dream, but when it becomes reality, you realize how big of a place it is. It’s a very special place. You know you have to win. You have a responsibility to win when you come to this team.”
Like Pagenaud, Power is a series champion (2014). Castroneves has won three Indianapolis 500s. They’re established and know the routine.
“I’ve enjoyed working with these guys so much,” Newgarden said. “I’ve had a great time with all the engineers, all the drivers. It’s been an easy transition for me. It’s been super, super easy.”
At 26, Newgarden is significantly younger than his teammates. Pagenaud is 33, Power 36 and Castroneves 42. The youngest driver doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at the others.
“Simon is great, too,” Newgarden said. “He likes that championship ring. You’ve got to watch out for Simon. He’s got a real heavy hand with his ring sitting on there. He’s dragging that ring around everywhere, his championship ring. That thing is so heavy and he will not let that thing go.”
Pagenaud chuckles at the new team member’s jab.
“It’s keeping me on the ground, yes, it’s good,” Pagenaud said of the championship ring ensuring the Frenchman stays grounded.
No teammate is immune. Castroneves, just by walking by in Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, is thrust into a conversation.
“Helio just needs to let the hair go gray,” Newgarden said of Castroneves’ perfectly-placed black strands. “He keeps talking about it. At some point, he’s going to let that ‘Silver Fox’ fly. It’s in there. It’s in there. When he does, it’s going to be a great day.”
When Power and Newgarden get together, they egg each other on.
“Will is the funniest guy nobody knows about,” Newgarden said. “He’s super funny. Will has so many deep-rooted issues that nobody knows about.”
“I do,” Power said.
“But he’s great at the same time,” Newgarden said. “People don’t know how great Will is. The deep-rooted issues aside, he is a great person to be around.”
“Where do the deep-rooted issues come from is my question,” Power said.
“I think Australia,” Newgarden said. “It’s Toowoomba, it’s the back country, that aborigine in you, it’s a little bit of that aborigine blood you’ve got.”
“Yeah, possibly,” Power said.
When told of Newgarden’s assessment about Pagenaud’s heavy championship ring, Power chimes in.
“Is he still wearing that thing?” Power asked.
“Oh yeah, it’s every day,” Newgarden said. “We’re going to have to steal that thing.”
Pagenaud, again, is amused.
“I think you should try to (win) one first,” the reigning champion said with a lengthy laugh.
The Team Penske comedy show makes its way with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field to Texas Motor Speedway for this week’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600. Activities begin with a 75-minute practice at 11 a.m. ET Friday, ahead of qualifying at 3:15 p.m. and a final 30-minute practice at 6:45 p.m.
Both practice sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Qualifying airs on NBCSN at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Coverage of the 248-lap race starts at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.