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For the second day in a row Wednesday, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in sleep mode as rain kept teams idling during the first four hours of scheduled track time.
Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing popped into the IMS Media Center to take a break from—well, taking a break. In his third year with the team and driving a car with the DW-12 engine (named after the late Indy 500 champ Dan Wheldon), Newgarden wasn't too worried about losing one of his nine available practice days.
"The good thing is, the first couple of years with the brand-new car, there wasn’t much rain," Newgarden said. "You know, in 2012 and 2013, there was a lot of development work that got put into these new chassis. Everyone is pretty sorted out now with what they’re doing. So there’s not a premium on having to run, but obviously any team, whenever, that can have track time, they’re going to maximize it."
In addition to last weekend's Grand Prix of Indianapolis, IndyCar teams—and specifically drivers—have a lot to take care of during their month-long stay in the home city of the series. So Newgarden, the 2011 Indy Lights champion, appreciates the time off when he gets it.
"Normally, you get pretty worn out from this whole month, with all of the commitments and all of the running that you do on the track," Newgarden said. "It’s actually nice to take some downtime and not do anything. To go home, watch a movie, and not think about racing. Come back the next day feeling fresh. If you’ve got time off, you use it to just chill out."
Newgarden certainly knows how to do that, recently appearing in the "Indy Is Happy" video that permeated the city for a solid week or two. While he resides in Indianapolis, the 23-year-old calls Hendersonville, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, his hometown. Only four-and-a-half hours from Indianapolis, the city hosted an IndyCar race from 2001 to 2008 but is typically not associated with the open-wheel series.
"Nashville has been growing for sure with interest in IndyCar racing," Newgarden said. "I think, probably, part of it has to do with me being in the series now. They’ve been really good to me. I think there are a lot more IndyCar fans in Nashville than people realize. People assume it’s all NASCAR fans. I think there are a bunch of IndyCar fans there, too."
When he does have downtime, Newgarden, who finished 28th and nine-laps-down in last year's 500, says he likes to annoy his engineers in the garage area while they work on his car. When not at the track, he likes to watch movies—most recently Dumb and Dumber with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.
As it happened, though, there wouldn't be time for a movie Wednesday afternoon, as Newgarden eventually got on the track, running 41 laps and recording the 10th-fastest time of the month—an encouraging performance.
"There’s still a lot to do before qualifications," Newgarden said afterward. "I think we are getting close, but we have to figure out every little detail before qualifying on Saturday."
So, would Newgarden say there's a chance his No. 67 Klipsch Honda will see Victory Lane come May 25?
"I think there just might be one for us this year."
For more Indy 500 and Month of May coverage, visit IM's May Madness blog.
Photos by Jim Haines and Dan Boyd, courtesy IMS
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