Coming off a championship winning season in 2019, Josef Newgarden and Team Penske's No. 1 Hitachi Dallara/Chevrolet team entered the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season with excitement and the aniticipation of trying secure back-to-back titles.
Just days before the season was set to start in St. Petersburg, Fla., the world came to a screeching halt as the coronavirus pandemic caused all sports, including INDYCAR, to put the 2020 season on hold. With new safety and health measures in place, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES officially got the green flag to start the season in June, instead of early March.
With a few extra months of training and preparation under their belts, Newgarden, the champion No. 1 team and the rest of the series returned to the track on Saturday, June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway for the rescheduled first race of the season.
Shaking off the rust from the unexpected extra time away from the track, the team quickly found its footing as Newgarden won the pole for the night race on the high-speed Texas oval. Despite falling back to as far as seventh late in the race, Newgarden made the most of a strong final stop from the Hitachi crew to gain positions on the cars that followed the No. 1 Chevy to pit lane. The surge gave Newgarden and the team a third-place finish to open season and a solid way to begin their defense of the series championship.
After a couple of weeks with more schedule adjustments, the series advanced to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for a memorable Fourth of July weekend as NASCAR and INDYCAR shared the legendary facility for an historic weekend of racing. Qualifying in the sixth position on the road course for the GMR Grand Prix, Newgarden started the race as he set his sights on his first career win at the famed track. An untimely caution flag put Newgarden in a tough position during a late pit stop and the reigning champ had to battle through lapped traffic in the closing stages of the race. He ultimately finished seventh in the 80-lap event and a victory at IMS would have to wait for another day.
A week later the series traveled to Elkhart Lake, Wis. for a doubleheader weekend at Road America. In the first race, Newgarden started strong by winning his second pole of 2020. However, after some mistakes on pit road and an extra stop towards the end of the race left the No. 1 in 14th place when the checkered flag waved.
In the second race of the weekend, Newgarden started in the same spot where he ended the first race – in the 14th position. Newgarden made up ground early and ran as high as seventh place before he closed the Road America weekend with a ninth-place rersult for Team Penske.
As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES traveled to Iowa Speedway for another doubleheader race weekend, Newgarden and the No. 1 Chevy team were ready to start asserting themselves in the championship battle. In the first race, Newgarden qualified in the second position and the Hitachi Chevy looked to be ready to fight for the win. After leading 68 of the 250 laps on the evening, Newgarden was in a good position. After the No. 1 pitted from the race lead, however, a caution for an incident on the front stretch put the Hitachi Chevrolet a lap down. Newgarden raced his way back onto the lead lap but he never got another opportunity to gain more ground on a race restart. When the checkered flag waved, Newgarden owned a fifth-place finish and a strong desire for better results the following night.
The No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team shook off its disappointment with a strong performance in the second race at Iowa. After starting from the pole, Newgarden led the first 57 laps before he made his first pit stop of the night. The young American champion recaptured the race lead on lap 189 and cruised to his first win of the year. The victory completed a Team Penske weekend sweep at Iowa following Simon Pagenaud's win in race one.
As statewide restrictions caused the race schedule to delay the race weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sport Car Course to later in the season, the series would have nearly a month off prior to Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
Newgarden and the No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet earned a 13th-place starting position for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Over the first half of the Indianapolis 500, Newgarden ran inside the top 15 as the No. 1 team focused on getting the car ready for a push toward the end of the race. For much of the second half of the race, Newgarden was positioned among the top 10 as he maintained a specific fuel setting at the direction of race strategist Tim Cindric. Following the final stop of the 500-mile race, Newgarden readjusted to ensure he had enough fuel to make it to the end. A late-race incident forced the race to end under caution which preserved a fifth-place result for Newgarden – to mark his consecutive top-five Indy 500 finish.
The series swung back into action one week later at World Wide Technology Raceway outside of St. Louis, Mo., for another doubleheader race weekend. Starting the opening race in the sixth position, Newgarden and team felt strong about their chances headed into the 200-lap race. Unfortunately, the Tennessee-native fell a lap down when a caution flag was thrown for reported light rain. The team lost all of its track position it gained earlier in the race due to the caution and took the wave around when the race resumed on lap 121. Newgarden kept waiting for an opportunity to return to the front of the field on a restart but that never materialized and he wound up finishing in the 12th position.
The No. 1 Hitachi Dallara/Chevrolet team rebounded quickly from race one disappointment by qualifying second for the second race of the weekend. With a smooth race and sound strategy, Newgarden maintained a position inside the top-10 much of the event. On his final trip to the pits, Newgarden enjoyed a lightning-fast stop from the Hitachi crew as they got their driver out in front of Pato O'Ward, who was running well and led a race-high 66 laps on the day. The fast work on pit lane proved to be the key to the race as Newgarden seized the lead once pit stops cycled through. Leading the final 43 laps of the race, Newgarden secured the 16th victory of his career and the No. 1 Chevy won for the second time in 2020.
With the momentum of the Gateway win behind them, the No. 1 team enjoyed a strong start to the doubleheader weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as Newgarden qualified third for race one. The No. 1 PPG Chevy required just two pits stops during the 75-lap race. Newgarden was not able to pass teammate and eventual race winner Will Power, but he did hold off two former Mid-Ohio winners in Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal to finish in second place
In the second race of the weekend at Mid-Ohio, Newgarden qualified ninth and was determined to make up track position on his way to the front of the field. After running inside the top-10 for most of the first half of the race, Newgarden trelayed to the team that the PPG Chevy was experiencing some rear grip issues. The team continued to monitor the situation prior to Newgarden's second stop of the race. On lap 47, Cindric called Newgarden and the PPG Chevrolet to the pits for their final stop of the day as the No. 1 team looked to improve its performance and overall track position.
Newgarden was not able to get by Team Penske teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud over the final stint of the race as he produced an eight-place result for his ninth top-10 finish in the first 11 races of the season.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES headed back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the final doubleheader weekend of the year in October for the Harvest Grand Prix.
The first race of the weekend would be slightly longer at 85 laps versus the second race of the weekend which would be 75 laps so teams needed to approach both races with different strategies. On lap 22, Newgarden pitted for the first time withn the No. 1 Chevy showing impressive speed. As the race wore on Newgarden battled Colton Herta for the lead on lap 54. After Herta locked up his tires and missed the corner in turn 1, Newgarden moved into the race lead. The Hitachi crew delivered on its final stop of the race and Newgarden took the checkered flag for his third win of the season. The performance also marked Team Penske’s 217th Indy car victory and its 23rd INDYCAR win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Newgarden also secured his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory at the legendary racetrack.
In the second race of the doubleheader weekend, the No. 1 team qualified ninth with a plan in place to quickly get Newgarden to the front of the field. By lap 21, Newgarden had already gained quite a bit of track position as Newgarden ran inside the top five. While Newgarden continued to apply pressure to the leaders, he was not able to overtake the cars in front of him driven by Power, Herta and Rossi. Newgarden came home in fourth place with a strong points weekend overall in pursuit of another series title.
Entering the final race of the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, Newgarden and the No. 1 Hitachi Dallara/Chevrolet team found themselves just 32 points behind championship leader Scott Dixon. Newgarden and the team knew they needed to win the rescheduled race on the streets of St. Petersburg and hope for Dixon to finish 11th or worse in order to claim the INDYCAR chamionship.
Though the team didn't produce the result in qualifying it had hoped for, Newgarden knew what he needed to do starting from ninth place in the season finale. With a focused pit strategy, Newgarden made his first stop on lap 29 for a quick tire change, fuel and a front wing adjustment while running in the seventh position. After a series of caution flags for consecutive on-track incidents, Newgarden took the green flag race restart in third place on lap 78. The reigning series champion then made one of the best moves of the season as he claimed the race lead with an aggressive outside manuever to pass the two cars ahead of him.
Newgarden led the field to the final restart of the race with just 16 laps remaining in the Firestone Grand Prix. Pato O'Ward battled closely with Newgarden over the closing stage of the race as Dixon maintained the lead in the series championship standings by running third while the final laps of the season wound down. Newgarden battled hard to the end to score his fourth win for the 2020 INDYCAR season and his 18th career victory as he held off O'Ward at the finish line. The championship was decided by just 16 points in the end as Dixon claimed his sixth series title just ahead of Newgarden.
Throughout the unusual 2020 season, Newgarden and the No. 1 Hitachi Dallara/Chevrolet team consistently proved their championship mettle. As they overcame a tough start to the year, Newgarden and the team battled back and took the title chase down to the wire. The Hitachi team will begin the 2021 season hungry for more wins, another championship and an elusive Indianapolis 500 victory.
“My team did such a great job all season long. We had some wins, poles and podiums in the Hitachi Chevrolet because of how hard this team worked. We came up just a little short at winning another championship but it was not lack of effort. We had a bit of bad luck which made things more difficult but my team was so consistent on trying to give me a car that could win every weekend. I’m glad they can have a bit of a break before we start prep for the 2021 season because they have more than earned it. I’m really looking forward to next season and continuing to work with this great team.”