Josef Newgarden sets the boundaries for the Nashville home race

Josef Newgarden sets the boundaries for the Nashville home race

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Josef Newgarden of course he was in the spotlight on Thursday nightpresenting his charity table tennis tournament on the eve of the Music City Grand Prix.

Bouncing between interviews with national and local media, cuddling puppies and deftly moving a paddle for most of the two hours, Newgarden (who lives full-time in Nashville with his wife Ashley and infant son, Kota) was l guest with the most in his hometown.

The fourth annual Celebrity Ping Pong Challenge (held for the second consecutive year in Nashville) raised more than $ 65,000 for charities Serious Fun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks (hence the puppies) and attracted more than a dozen drivers. IndyCar at Pins Mechanical in downtown Nashville.

It felt like the opening salvo of a weekend welcome party for the return of the NTT IndyCar Series to its treading ground in Tennessee.

But it was actually Newgarden who brought down the curtain on his weekend appearances schedule.

For the next three days, the two-time series champion said he would focus entirely on the track.

“One hundred percent; I’ve closed everything else,” Newgarden said Thursday. “This event was a priority. I really wanted to raise some money for these big organizations, but other than that, I just want to run. So whatever else we don’t have to do, we don’t. I tried to give myself a slightly better opportunity. “

It’s a lesson learned from last season while racing solo on IndyCar’s first visit to Nashville. For four days, Newgarden embraced the role of principal ambassador for the inaugural Music City Grand Prix. In between the fulfillment of each appearance and interview request, he was also followed by a documentary crew who produced a 22-minute episode of “Off the Grid” about the unfortunate weekend.

Newgarden crashed with his Dallara-Chevrolet No. 2 at turn 11 during qualifying and finished in tenth placeth after starting 12th.

His viewing of the documentary later was revealing.

“I thought it was funny; you might feel the intensity on me that weekend, a lot of the frustration, “Newgarden told NBC Sports in a preseason interview.” Nashville was a lot to take in and I was surprised at how far I have extended. I really would have been better at trying to prioritize the racing side of the weekend. I knew how important it would be and how much I would be pulled in every direction. I think that got the better of me. … My attention it was just too diverted from the side of the track, and when I was on the track and saw the footage, you saw a lot of frustration on my part, being bombarded for quite a while.

“I wanted to hide more than anything else that weekend. It was really hard to be in everyone’s eyes, but it’s part of racing. You have to thrive in those moments. I think it was a teaching moment for me. I learned how I can do it and where I can set limits. “

There were no limits to improvement in Nashville, which Newgarden said was one of its weakest runs in 2021.

His team brought a radically new setup that showed promising results with the fifth fastest speed in Friday’s free practice.

“We have come up with something that is productive,” he said. “We have to work on it. I am very confident that with this group here we can understand it, have a good weekend, don’t let this be bad in the last four (races of the season). I think we can have a fantastic weekend here as a whole team. “

Newgarden is 32 points behind teammate Will Power with four races left after posting a fifth on July 30 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He had been cleared to run just two days earlier after being hospitalized for a fall at Iowa Speedway, where he had fallen off the lead while trying to complete a weekend sweep.

“I felt really good; I felt quite normal, “said Newgarden.” I would probably say I wasn’t 100%, but I felt good. I felt normal in many ways, but I tried to improve myself even more. A top five was really strong for us. We needed to be in the race. I was happy to be there. I think we had more potential than fifth, but we have four races to go. Plenty of time to make enough of that happen. “

Starting with what he hopes will be a clean and quiet home weekend.

“I try not to put more pressure on him than any other race,” said Newgarden. “Every event we go to is under pressure. We want to perform. It doesn’t matter what race it is. Clearly this is more special being from Nashville and having this event here.

“We want people to come to Nashville and think of this as an event, a Super Bowl-like event. So there is a lot of pressure for it. I do it like any other race, any other day. Focus on my work. I think if you do that, you give yourself a better opportunity to run the race you run normally and potentially win it. “

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