Josef Newgarden is, to put it plainly, a winner.
The Nashville, TN native has won in America and in Europe. He won at the earliest karting levels before continuing his winning ways in Skip Barber and Formula Ford. He’s a former Team USA Scholarship winner. He won 5 out of 14 races of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season, both on ovals and road/street events. He lapped the entire field at New Hampshire, the first time that had happened in a Lights race in five years. His career win percentage hovers around the ridiculously good 23% mark, despite a slight detour in 2010 GP3 where a lack of resources and proper testing kept him from the front of the pack.
Now, Newgarden will have a chance to give Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing their next win in the IZOD IndyCar Series. As Newgarden was announced as Fisher’s 2012 driver of the #67 car Thursday afternoon, it was also an early birthday present for the young prospect, who turns 21 in two weeks. While a full season program has yet to be announced, Fisher’s team has exceeded expectations time and again, from winning at Kentucky this year to signing the top-rated prospect in this year’s Lights class. If any team can get their sponsorship in order for a full season, you have to like the odds of INDYCAR’s most determined owner paired with the well-spoken rookie to make it happen. With additional announcements apparently forthcoming in the following weeks, it will be exciting to see their 2012 plans coming together.
Newgarden securing a ride with SFHR is a positive step for the series, and not just because it’s pairing a top American prospect with one of INDYCAR’s most popular teams and owners. In order for the Mazda Road to Indy to have the sort of legitimacy it needs to have to be a true ladder to INDYCAR, champions and top prospects need to move up. We’ve seen it work at USF2000 and Star Mazda levels, and now there’s every indication that it can work at the top level, too. INDYCAR needs to show that there is upward mobility, that a viable progression for promising racers who win championships exists, even to the hallowed ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself.
So while we don’t yet know if Newgarden will run every race in 2012 (though I wouldn’t bet against it) or who the signed-but-not-announced engine manufacturer for his team’s car will be, we do know that will be see a lot of this top American prospect in next year’s IZOD IndyCar Series campaign. That’s as it should be, and it’s good news for Newgarden, his new team, INDYCAR, and especially the fans.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.