Newgarden becomes fan favorite at 1st Indy 500
Though it seemed strange seeing the youngest driver in this year’s Indianapolis 500 explaining to the oldest rookie in 500 history how to get around the Brickyard’s 2.5-mile oval, Newgarden seemed at ease Tuesday.
“The faster you go, the easier this place is,” the 21-year-old kid explained to the 47-year-old Alesi.
Newgarden has a way of making things sound and look easy.
From the moment Sarah Fisher’s No. 67 car rolled off the truck in Indy this month, Newgarden was one of the fastest drivers. He topped the speed charts three times in the first five practices _ more than anyone else all week.
While some contend Newgarden’s speeds were artificially inflated by tows, he proved his numbers were real by becoming the only Honda driver to make Saturday’s pole shootout. Not even the four Honda cars from Chip Ganassi's powerhouse team could do that.
Starting seventh Sunday, the inside of Row 3, makes Newgarden the highest rookie qualifier since Danica Patrick started fourth in 2005. And if he wins the race, Newgarden would become the first to win Indy’s other May race, the Freedom 100, and the world-famous 500 in back-to-back years. No American rookie has won the race since Louis Meyer in 1928.
It would make him a star in Gasoline Alley, too, where’s he’s already developing a sort of cult following.
IndyCar fans who desperately want a young American star to revive the series have added Newgarden to the growing list of other 20-something hopefuls _ Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal.
Right now, though, Newgarden is the hottest thing going. He’s qualified in the top 10 three straight times and just missed finishing in the top 10 at St. Petersburg, finishing 11th in his IndyCar debut.
It’s not just race fans who are taking notice of the baby-faced, blonde-haired racer who abstains from alcohol. His public relations representative jokes that female fans range from tweens to cougars.
None of the attention fazes Newgarden.
“They’re blinded by the speed, that’s all it is,” Newgarden said with a smile. “It’s all smoke and mirrors.”