Indy 500 2012: Josef Newgarden Is IndyCar's Next Big Star

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMay 22, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 19:  Josef Newgarden the driver  of the Sarah Fisher Hartman/Dollar General car prepares for his qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There's no better time or occasion for IndyCar to brand the "Next Big Thing" in open-wheel racing than this Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

And there's no better driver to step into that role, since vacated by Danica Patrick on her way to NASCAR, than Josef Newgarden.

The 21-year-old rookie will start from the seventh spot in his first-ever run at the Indy 500, though his youth and relative inexperience don't figure to hinder him on Memorial Day. He's already intimately familiar and comfortable with the track at the Brickyard, having won the Indy Light's Freedom 100 there last year.

In fact, a win at the 500 would make Newgarden the first driver in history to win the Freedom 100 and the Indy 500 back-to-back.

He's also hoping to become the first American to win the Indy 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. drank from the milk bottle in 2006.

But the uniqueness of Newgarden's bid for Brickyard glory doesn't end there. No rookie has qualified as highly for the biggest event in open-wheel racing in seven years, since Danica Patrick first came on the scene in 2005. His No. 67 car also happens to be the only Honda situated among the top 10 qualifiers.

That Honda has allowed Newgarden to rise up as one of the fastest drivers in the sport. He's been at or near the top of the speed charts in Indianapolis all month.

And if he can replicate those results at the Brickyard this weekend, Newgarden may well be on his way to celebrating in Victory Lane and establishing himself as an IndyCar star for years to come.