NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Josef Newgarden naturally was in the spotlight on Thursday eveninghosting his charity ping-pong tournament on the eve of the Music City Grand Prix.
Bouncing between national and local media interviews, cuddling puppies and deftly waving a paddle for nearly two hours, Newgarden (who lives full-time in Nashville with his wife, Ashley, and newborn son, Kota) was the host with the most in his hometown.
The fourth annual Celebrity Ping Pong Challenge (held for the second year in a row in Nashville) has raised over $65,000 for the Serious Fun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks charities (hence the puppies) and attracted more of a dozen IndyCar drivers 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 Tennessee stomping grounds.
But it was actually Newgarden dropping the curtain on their appearance schedule for the weekend.
What a night. Thank you so much to everyone who came to join us for our 4th annual ping pong tournament. Thanks to our generous sponsors and ticket buyers, we raised over $65,000 for @SeriousFunCamps & @WagsandWalks! See you next year ! pic.twitter.com/ON5ydLFWNd
—Josef Newgarden (@josefnewgarden) August 5, 2022
For the next three days, the two-time series champion said he will be fully focused on the track.
“One hundred percent; I shut down everything else,” Newgarden said Thursday. “This event was a priority. I really wanted to raise money for these big organizations, but other than that I just want to run the race. , whatever else we don’t have to do, don’t do it. I tried to give myself just a little better opportunity.
It’s a lesson learned from last season as he struggled on IndyCar’s first visit to Nashville. For four days, Newgarden acted as the lead ambassador for the inaugural Music City Grand Prix. In between responding to every appearance and interview request, he was also attended by a documentary team who produced a 22-minute episode of “Off the Grid” about the cursed weekend.
Newgarden crashed his #2 Dallara-Chevrolet at Turn 11 in qualifying and finished 10e after starting 12e.
His later viewing of the documentary was eye-opening.
“I thought it was funny; you could feel the intensity on me this weekend, a lot of frustration,” Newgarden told NBC Sports during a preseason interview. “Nashville was a lot to take in, and I was surprised at how far I extended. I really thought I was going to be better at trying to prioritize the racing side of the weekend. I knew how important this was going to be and how I was going to be pulled in all directions. I think it got the better of me. … My concentration just strayed too far from the edge of the track. And when I was on the track and looking at the footage, you could see a lot of frustration on my part. Get bombarded a bit.
“I wanted to hide more than anything this weekend. It was really hard to be in everyone’s eyes, but that’s part of racing. You need to thrive in those times. I think it was a teaching moment for me. I learned how I can deal with this and where I can set boundaries.
There was no limit to improvement in Nashville, which Newgarden said was one of his weakest runs in 2021.
His team brought in a radically new setup that showed promise with the fifth fastest gear in practice on Friday.
“We came up with something productive,” he said. “We have to work on it. I have a lot of faith that with this group here we can figure it out, have a good weekend, not let it be negative in the last four (races of the season). I think we can have a great weekend here with the whole team.
Newgarden is 32 points behind teammate Will Power with four races remaining after posting a fifth on July 30 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been cleared to race just two days earlier after being hospitalized for a crash at Iowa Speedway, where he crashed into the lead while trying to complete a weekend sweep.
“I felt really good; I felt pretty normal,” Newgarden said. “I would probably say I wasn’t 100%, but I felt good. I felt normal in many ways, but I tried to improve myself further. A top five was really strong for us. You had to be in the race. I was happy to be there. I think we had more potential than fifth place, but we still have four races to go. Plenty of time to do enough.
Starting with what he hopes will be a clean and quiet weekend at home.
“I try not to make it more pressure-filled than any other race,” Newgarden said. “Every event we attend is under a lot of pressure. We want to perform. It doesn’t matter what race it is. Clearly, it’s more special to be from Nashville and to have this event here.
“We want people to come to Nashville and see this as an event, a Super Bowl-type event. So there’s a lot of pressure for that. 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 than you normally would and potentially win it.