By Amy Tennery
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Sitting in a Manhattan restaurant on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after clinching the IndyCar Series title, driver Josef Newgarden contemplated what many in their late 20s often do — the idea that he might not be that young anymore.
“I was in the ‘emerging talent’ for like eight years. I never got out of that silo,” the 28-year-old Newgarden told Reuters, after hoisting the championship trophy on Sunday at Laguna Seca.
“When you don’t think about it you always think you’re young. You’re like ‘I’m young, I haven’t done this a long time.’ But I really have. I’m probably one of the veterans of the sport in a lot of ways.”
Yet for the American, who also won the championship in 2017, a second title in three years marks a pivotal moment in a career already laden with early success.
“I feel like it meant more this time around than our first championship in 2017,” said Newgarden. “I just think you have more perspective on it and more appreciation for the amount of time and work that goes into it.
“Winning a championship is a huge deal but if you get another one then it really puts a stamp on your time within the sport.”
IndyCar is a sport where younger drivers are making inroads.
Three of the top seven in points this season are 27 years old or younger, while Colton Herta became the youngest-ever IndyCar winner in March, six days before his 19th birthday.
Yet the suggestion that Newgarden, who won four races this year, is “established” still takes some getting used to for the Team Penske driver.
“There’s no hiding it, I’ve been here for a long time,” said Newgarden. “Next year will be my ninth season. I’ve been around and done it a long time. You feel that way after eight or nine years.”
For Newgarden, who in 2016 competed on televised obstacle course competition “American Ninja Warrior” on just one week’s notice, remaining adaptable is key, and he points to the variety of track types in IndyCar competition as proof that the veterans are not going anywhere.
“I think the reason the veterans hang on so long and they get better with age is just because of the challenge of the series, the amount of tracks they go to,” said Newgarden.
“They have the mental strength to switch back and forth really quickly throughout the year which you have to be able to do.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis)