Josef Newgarden’s championship in the Verizon IndyCar Series is important because it serves as a pivot-point in the long history of the sport.
The stars of the of the future are actually here today and the face of the series has become a 26-year-old American driver from Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Newgarden has company with a 25-year-old American driver from Auburn, California who won the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 – Alexander Rossi. They have the makings of a rivalry of their generation.
This could be the modern-day version of A.J. Foyt versus Mario Andretti. Rick Mears vs. Michael Andretti. Bobby Unser vs. Al Unser.
For years, one of the knocks on the IndyCar Series is America had left it behind. The big-name drivers from the United States were more interested in NASCAR than continuing the great American heritage of IndyCar. With more street and road courses, IndyCar was a sport with drivers from Europe and South America competing on American soil.
Meantime, fans in the United States longed for a driver to cheer for.
At one time, it was Sam Hornish, Jr. – but his success came at a time when Indy car racing was deeply fractured in a split between two series – CART and the old Indy Racing League.
Once those two warring factions came together in February 2008 to create today’s modern-day Verizon IndyCar Series, some of the greatest names in racing were the stars including New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, Scotland’s Dario Franchitti, Brazil’s Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan.
Ryan Hunter-Reay gave America an IndyCar Series champion in 2012 – the only driver from the United States that won the championship between Hornish’s last title in 2006 until Newgarden’s championship in 2017.
And that is why it is so important because Newgarden checks two important items off IndyCar’s list – he’s young AND he’s home-grown.
"I'll carry the flag happily," Newgarden said. "I love the IndyCar Series. I think it's got the whole world in front of it. It can go so many good ways. I'll do the best that I can to help spread the word and show people how great this sport is.
"I think people have been catching on to be honest with you over the last couple years. They're coming back to the sport. Anyone that we lost over the last 20 years, I think they've been coming back over the last five or six seasons, and we've got to make sure that we keep doing that.
"It's not one big step, it's going to be little steps at a time, and I think in the next five years hopefully we can be in an amazing place. I think we're in a good place right now, but we want to be in an amazing place. I'll do my best to carry that flag and help everyone in the Verizon IndyCar Series keep going up."
Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org Ride Long and Prosper!