Newgarden carries torch for next generation of U.S. stars

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As a way to inspire his players, a coach of the hugely successful Montreal Canadiens hockey team had a line from the famous poem “In Flanders Field” added to the team's dressing room in the 1950s.

The line reads: “To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.”

With Josef Newgarden becoming the youngest champion in 14 years and a bevy of other young stars coming into their own, perhaps the Verizon IndyCar Series should add that sentiment to its promotional material for the 2018 season.

There's no avoiding that the Verizon IndyCar Series has several veterans nearing the end of illustrious careers, but there's also a good crop of talented young U.S. stars reaching for the torch. Newly minted champion Newgarden is at the top of the list.

One of the first things he did after the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday was thank Verizon IndyCar Series fans for their support. Then, he made a pitch for fans to stay tuned next season:

“It’s only getting better, I swear,” said the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver.

“The IndyCar Series is growing. People know that we have great motorsports here, so tune in. If you don’t know, and people don’t know, tell them what’s up with Indy car racing. Come to the Indy 500 next year. Come watch the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. You will not be disappointed.”

No doubt Newgarden, 26, will be one of the leading drivers for many years to come after joining Team Penske this season and immediately making an impact. There were signs of greatness in five previous seasons, but finally having a top car under him gave the Tennessee native a chance to shine. He grabbed the torch with both hands, scoring a season-high four wins this year.

Newgarden's determination and talent have not gone unnoticed.

“I think he’s going to be a tremendous champion,” said Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who won the title last year.

“He’s American, which is great for the sport, and he’s a kid. And I’ll tell you what, he’s very smart already.”

The good news is that Newgarden isn't the only young U.S. driver ready to take over as stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Alexander Rossi (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda) left Formula One to join the Verizon IndyCar Series and came into his own in 2017, taking a dominant win in the penultimate race at Watkins Glen and ending the season as the top Andretti Autosport driver in seventh overall. With the 25-year-old signing a multiyear deal that will keep him with Andretti for the foreseeable future, Newgarden will have a tough challenger as he defends his crown in 2018. 

Although he had a mechanical failure in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Rossi also came on near the end of the year, taking three podiums in the final six races. Many see him as a massive talent on the rise and a driver who will only get better.

“There’s a huge amount of positives we can take from the year and I can’t wait to get started again in 2018,” Rossi said after the race.

Even though it's hard to believe he's still in his 20s after being in the Verizon IndyCar Series for a decade, two-time race winner Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals / SoldierStrong Honda) is also one of the young guns ready to step out of the veterans' shadows. He ended the 2017 season sixth overall in points.

“Our team is doing a good job,” he said. “We have a lot to be proud of this year. We have to just keep pushing as hard as we can. I hope we can come out on top next year.”

Add a couple of budding stars in Conor Daly (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) and Spencer Pigot (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet), and the crop of young Americans just gets richer.

Pigot will contest all races in 2018 after reaching a full-time deal to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing. While Daly doesn't have a deal confirmed for 2018, his final three races served as a calling card for next season, including an impressive fifth place at Gateway Motorsport Park in August.

Then again, Newgarden insisted that having a good crop of young U.S. talent isn't enough.

“I've always preached that it's great that we have the best of the best in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” he said.

“I feel like team owners and people within INDYCAR are looking to the youth in America, which is a great thing. I think there's more guys that are capable that are coming up to help fly the flag in this series but, as I said, the best thing is we have people from all around the world that are the best at what they do, and we've got to continue to have that.

“We have to have the best from Europe and from anywhere overseas because if it's just Americans running, it wouldn't mean anything, but certainly having successful Americans is a big deal, too.” having successful Americans is a big deal, too.”

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