The ‘lonely’ mindset a serial IndyCar winner has broken out of

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Josef Newgarden’s crushing win in IndyCar’s 2024 season-opener might have looked easy, but the inner turmoil he fought to get there has been anything but.

After winning two titles in his first three years at Team Penske, he’s gone four years without coming out on top in the championship He’s won more races than anyone else in that period by a country mile, 15 wins in four seasons, but the lack of consistency has perhaps taken its toll.

It seems Newgarden has had a realisation that some drivers never get the chance to discover. In a series of fine margins, he’s been too focused on winning races – and therefore losing becomes such a heavy burden – and he’s had to do something to change that.

“I’ve had to let go of that mentality, there’s no sustainability in my perfection,” says Newgarden.

“I’m definitely a perfectionist. I’m an introvert, but I get hyper-fixated on trying to maximize everything.

“I think my mentality was win or nothing throughout my career. Even today it was creeping in. I’m like, we’re winning this race today or we’re not winning it. I was going to go for it or nothing. It is my mentality.

“But from a bigger picture standpoint, I just don’t think that’s sustainable. I’m not going away from my passion and my desire, but I’m trying to re-center my enjoyment in what I do.”

Even despite winning the Indy 500 last year, ending a 12-year wait for the biggest prize of his career and the one he was asked about repetitively every time it came to the Month of May, it was clear to some that it didn’t look like Newgarden was really enjoying the position he was in.

The Nashville native had to contend with two engineer changes in two years, one for 2022 and then another for 2023, with Luke Mason taking over and establishing an incredibly tight bond with his driver.

But before that bond, the uncertainty and turnover no doubt led to Newgarden putting too much weight and pressure on himself, remembering set-up specifics and directions from previous years to try and plug the gap of the inexperience coming in.

Winning races constantly not being enough for the title – while Alex Palou and Will Power both won less than him in 2022 and 2023 but came out on top – ebbed away at Newgarden’s enjoyment for his craft.

Even his Bus Bros YouTube series launched with Scott McLaughlin looked like a slightly out-of-character direction for Newgarden, with hindsight perhaps launched to just find enjoyment with something in racing. It’s not restarted yet in 2024.

Newgarden opening up on the inner turmoil he has faced explains a lot of things we’ve seen from the outside in the last few years.

He was at pains to say that he understands the job of a racing driver is a privilege, but that it’s also cut-throat by nature and therefore tricky to enjoy sometimes.

About falling in and out of love with racing, he says he is “really encouraged about everything going on in life, and I’m not overloaded”, which has not always been the case.

“Sometimes I’ve just got to pare it back and say, look, you just can’t do everything,” he adds.

“I’m not saying that I was doing a great job at everything, but I think I was trying to, and I’ve had to tell myself, it’s all right, it’s not going to be perfect. You’ve got to remove that expectation.

“Simply put, I just wanted to be happier again being at the track and enjoying the job and the process, and I do.

“I’ve let go of some of the perfectionism. I’d look at 17 races and go, ‘how do we win 17 races’. You lose one race and you’re already mourning the one race you lost.

“You just can’t live on that hill for that long. It gets a little bit lonely. So I’m enjoying it more, simply put.”

The loss of a race often comes with factors outside of your control, something The Race IndyCar Podcast and ex-Newgarden team-mate JR Hildebrand has identified Newgarden has done too much, trying to focus on things outside of his control. Perhaps the above is evidence of that.

Newgarden’s mentality shift was a big topic on this week’s episode, which you can listen to below:

Part of Newgarden’s newfound enjoyment has come from leaning even more heavily into enjoying being part of a team.

“Stepping into a group with many different people coming together and trying to figure out a problem, that problem is different every single weekend, and it’s just so much fun to go through that with a team,” he adds.

“We did that this weekend. It was a little different than what it was last year, and we found new solutions and we executed in the moment and made it happen on race day. I’m getting back to the basics of loving that.

“I really felt that today. I enjoyed driving. I really had a good time, and it all worked out, too, so that makes it a little bit more enjoyable.

“I think the sentiment is where it needs to be.”

Newgarden has already discussed how becoming a father last year has helped him to prioritise time in his life better generally, and this realisation that he needed to do something about being so race-win-orientated can surely only lead to positive gains.

That will be a bad sign for the opposition.

After all, if this was Newgarden in some sort of personal crisis – perhaps that’s too strong a word, inner struggle maybe – then the fact he finished second in three of the last four years and won as many races as anyone while winning an Indy 500 last year, I hate to think what he will be capable of in a better mental state.

Perhaps we’ve already seen evidence of what it can do. He ended his pole draught which stretched through the whole of 2023, and dominated the race making it look easy.

Look out everyone else.

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