MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Roger Penske went 1-2-3 in the IndyCar standings this year. He figured he could have done better.
Team Penske added Josef Newgarden to its roster on Wednesday, giving the organization the top four finishing drivers in this season’s IndyCar standings.
Newgarden, who finished fourth this year in the series, was the top free agent in IndyCar and becomes the first American driver on Penske’s open wheel roster since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2007.
“That’s not the reason we hired him,” Penske team president Tim Cindric said, “but a bonus for sure.”
Newgarden was hired because he’s the future of IndyCar. The Tennessee native turns 26 in December, and although he has just three career wins in four seasons, he found success with tiny Ed Carpenter Racing in a series that is dominated by Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.
He’ll replace Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Indianapolis 500 last year for Penske and lost the series title on a tie-breaker. Newgarden joins a lineup that includes reigning champion Simon Pagenaud, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and former series champ Will Power.
Penske expanded his roster to four cars to make room for Pagenaud, who became a free agent after the 2013 season. The team was rewarded when Pagenaud gave the organization its 14th IndyCar title last month. So with Newgarden available, Penske again made a shrewd move and offered him Montoya’s seat.
“You have to decide if he’s going to join you, or you are going to race against him for a little while,” Cindric said.
Montoya was told during the summer that the team was looking at other options for its aging roster â Montoya and Castroneves are both 41 â but was given the options to race in the Indy 500 for Penske.
“We’ve got a seat at Indy for him if he wants one,” Cindric said. “Our offer is open for him, we’d love for him to continue with our team. But we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to have Josef be a part of team in the future.”
Newgarden and Ed Carpenter Racing announced last week that Newgarden would not return, and Newgarden wasted no time jumping into Penske mode. He said he had his first phone conversation with Penske on Tuesday, he was at the North Carolina shop on Wednesday morning and will test with the entire organization next week at Road America in Wisconsin.
His crash course into all things Penske was an admitted “information overload,” but Newgarden doesn’t plan to waste any time contributing. He anticipates eventually relocating from Indianapolis to North Carolina, where Pagenaud and Power both live to be close to the shop.
“I’ll try to add value to the group, which is going to be hard to do,” he said. “Team Penske is a dream job. Roger Penske is a legend in the motorsports community and his team has done just about everything they’ve ever set out to do.”
Newgarden finished the 2016 season with one win, four podiums and 11 top-10 finishes. He led 282 of 300 laps to win at Iowa this year, and was in the championship hunt until he wrecked at Texas in June.