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Newgarden: An IndyCar star in the making

5/3/2013

Driver Josef Newgarden's rookie year in the IndyCar series was unique -- in a bad way.

"There was something always going wrong. It was like one of those Debbie Downer cases. We never had one weekend where everything went right," Newgarden told Playbook this week as he prepared both for this weekend's race in Sao Paulo and the Indy 500 on May 26.

Most of the problems for Newgarden and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda last season came at the track, including an electrical power failure in the Indy 500, which forced him out in 25th place. This week's most pressing concern was a persistent water problem at his Indianapolis apartment.

"It's been a drama. We've had massive water problems," he said. "It's worse than having no electricity. You can't do anything when you don't have water. It's one of those essential things."

Another essential tool for a young driver like Newgarden, 22, is marketability. He's a natural in front of the camera and left a lasting impact on YouTube as the point man in the official IndyCar Harlem Shake video that was staged on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Yard of Bricks. He recently talked to Playbook about his various YouTube endeavors, his struggles as a young IndyCar driver and how he ended up posting a photo of himself with Tigger on Instagram.

Playbook: Assess where you stand in terms of your career development?

Newgarden: We're not super pleased, but we've had a much better start this year. What we're capable of doing is incredible. That's made me feel more confident. I give our performance an A right now, but I give our execution a D. We haven't had killer results this season, but where we're positioned, we'll have better results.

Playbook: What's been different this year?

Newgarden: We had an entire offseason to prepare. Last season, we didn't even get an engine until three weeks before the season started. We didn't do much testing. We just jumped into the season. Now, we've done everything. We're more prepared.

Playbook: Your Harlem Shake video was unique given its location. How did it come together, and how did you end up with that hat?

Newgarden: We wanted to do our version of the Harlem Shake on the Yard of Bricks. I was all for it. It was still fresh and growing at that point. We did it in about two days and knocked the shoot out in about two hours. Getting the costumes together was the challenge. The hat was from band leader of the Gordon Pipers. He said give me your helmet and I'll give you my hat. It was one of those in-the-moment deals.

Playbook: Your clip hit YouTube the same day as Jeff Gordon's. (Gordon's was posted on Funny or Die a day earlier.) What did you think of Gordon's version and that from Jimmie Johnson at the Daytona finish line?

Newgarden: I liked Gordon's. I thought Jimmie's was good too. I thought ours was hilarious. Those guys didn't go full out on their dancing. With our version, I just wanted to make sure it was the silliest damn thing possible, and I wanted to fully commit. I didn't see those guys fully commit.

Playbook: Did your personality evolve because of your racing or did your racing grow as a result of your personality?

Newgarden: The personality has always been there; it just gets turned up a little bit in front of the cameras. I like my peace and being home alone. I've always been a huge goofball, kind of dork. Having an outgoing personality with fans at the track is very important. Racing is my job, and taking it seriously is the top priority at the track. When you've got the helmet on, you're in your zone, you're not going to be a silly person. When you're outside of it, it's OK to be yourself.

Playbook: Some athletes have to be coaxed or pushed into using social media. You seem to have no such issues given all those YouTube clips.

Newgarden: This is not typical of the younger generation, but I trained myself to do social media in certain situations. I don't want to do social media. To me, it's more of a hassle and unnecessary, personally. When I'm out doing something, I'd rather just experience it myself and with the people I'm with. But I can also see how important it is to keep fans updated. You owe them that information since they are loyal to you.

Playbook: So it's easier for you to be in a YouTube video than tweeting about it?

Newgarden: I have more of a natural confidence in front of a camera. I don't know why. I don't see a need to hide anything. The camera has zero effect on me.

Playbook: Have you ever thought about what you'd do if you won the Indy 500, aside from drinking milk?

Newgarden: I've thought about winning it since I was about 12 or 13, when I started racing. I've never thought about what I'd do if I won. That's another one of those in-the-moment deals.

Playbook: You finished 25th at Indy last year. Tell us about your rookie experience?

Newgarden: I was frustrated because we had a great month. We had led three of six practice days and were the highest-qualifying Honda. But we were outmatched by the Chevys. We had a really bad race day.

Playbook: What’s going to make this year different?

Newgarden: Last year, we had a damn fast car, but we didn't put enough emphasis on the race car. We lost the handle on how it raced in traffic. This year, we've got to figure out how to race that car well around traffic.

Playbook: If you could play one song while you were racing, what would it be?

Newgarden: Coldplay's entire "X&Y" album. When I first started racing, I used to listen to it all the time.

Playbook: What about your favorite TV show?

Newgarden: I get a kick out of "Family Guy." It's not the most politically correct show. They go over the line with too much stuff. They don't just go over the line; they make the line disappear.

Playbook: What's up with this photo of you as a little boy and Tigger on Instagram?


From Josef Newgarden via Instagram.

Newgarden: One of the people on Instagram I follow posted a photo about when they had posted a funny photo of themselves at Disney World being hugged by Dopey when she was young. I wanted her to know we've all had our dark times at Disney World.

Playbook: Did you ever go back?

Newgarden: I went three times in the past six months for different reasons. I love it there. I think it's the greatest place on earth. It's so damn happy. I'm completely comfortable saying that. Anyone who says Disney World is not awesome is either lying or I don't know what's wrong with them.

Playbook: People might think we paid you to say that.

Newgarden: I can understand if you don't like the lines, but to not like Disney because it's not a happy place -- I just don't see it. How can you not like Disney?

Playbook: You did a PSA for animal adoption. Tell us about your pets.

Newgarden: At my parent's house, we still have two cats. The outdoor cat is like a panther. He's like a total badass cat, muscular. The indoor cat is a scrawny wimpy guy. He thinks he's the baddest cat out there, but he's a little wimpy guy. It's a fun dynamic.

Bill Speros is an ESPN.com contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @billsperos or via email at bsperos1@gmail.com.