Thursday July 18th, 2024 8:09AM

Indy 500 champ Josef Newgarden dreams of trying The Doube

By Teresa M. Walker AP Sports Writer

LEBANON, Tenn. — Back-to-back Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden has a driving dream he still harbors, even knowing that challenges with schedules and sponsors make it likely impossible to ever achieve.

Newgarden not only wants to drive a stock car someday, he wants to do The Double.

Yes, the Indianapolis 500 followed by a quick flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Coca-Cola 600, which Kyle Larson was the latest to try in May, only to be foiled by weather. That's not stopping Newgarden from hoping to add his name to the exclusive list of those who've tried.

How? Win more Indy 500s.

“We got two now,” Newgarden said. "How many do you need for an automatic yes on that? Is it two more? I don’t know what the number is, but we’ll just keep going until they say yes.”

Newgarden on Sunday finally got to watch his first NASCAR Cup Series race at the track where he watched IndyCar races as a child, and he even got to cheer on former middle school classmate Josh Berry, who started on the front row.

The Hendersonville native went to Bristol for NASCAR races growing up, as well.

He finally gets his chance to drive a race car on the 1.33-mile, concrete Nashville Superspeedway oval in September when IndyCar wraps up its season here.

IndyCar officials announced in February the move of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix to the track about 40 miles away, despite it being a smashing success on the streets of lower Broadway around Music City's famed honky tonks and with a bridge part of a tricky track layout.

The parking lot used for the paddock and team hospitality is now under construction for the NFL's Tennessee Titans' new stadium. The current stadium was key to all IndyCar operations.

Newgarden has never even done a tire test on this track, and he wasn't sure if he'll be part of Team Penske's tire test here in August.

He grew up loving racing. Newgarden started in go-karts and the cool factor of open-wheel drivers drew him to IndyCar and Formula 1 instead of stock cars despite growing up in the heart of NASCAR country.

“You’re like: ‘Wow? What are these guys? Like, are they astronauts? Or, like you know, jet fighter pilots?’” Newgarden said. “Like they look so different than anything else out there that that’s what drew me in. So when I was a kid, I naturally gravitated toward open-wheel cars.”

That decision certainly has paid off. Newgarden, now 33, is a two-time IndyCar Series season champ with 30 career victories and 17 poles.

He certainly watched closely as Larson tried to pull off the rare Indy 500-NASCAR double in May and called it great to see him try. Newgarden said he'd love to see more drivers make the attempt.

“If you ask almost anybody across both grids, whether it’s the stock car side or IndyCar, there’s a lot of people that want to do it," Newgarden said. “I mean, any racer loves to run multiple forms of motorsport. It’s just difficult to do nowadays.”

Larson has some pull as the 2021 NASCAR Cup season champ with 26 career wins. He went into Nashville as the points leader with three victories, and he finished eighth Sunday night after running out of gas in a chaotic race that went to a record five overtimes.

Newgarden also knows how often Larson races almost any chance he gets.

With the demands of contracts, sponsors and schedules, it just isn't that easy these days. Newgarden said it's not easy to get approval for “extracurricular activities, and I wish I could do more.” IndyCar remains at the top of the list, though it's tough not to envy the days of old.

This isn't the 1970s and the days of Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, when winning races brought opportunities.

“Now it doesn’t really matter and to put everything together is really tough,” Newgarden said. "You just don’t see it that often.”

That's why Newgarden isn't sure if he'll ever get the chance to try to run the grueling 1,100 miles in the same day in two marquee races in separate states.

“It’s definitely high on the list,” Newgarden said.

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