He may be young, but he has the speed to conquer the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The odds aren't necessarily in his favor, but Josef Newgarden doesn't care. As he said, he came to Indianapolis for just one reason.
"I think we can win. That's what the team wants to do. You don't go to Indianapolis and finish second," the rookie driver told The Tennessean's Greg Sullivan.
There are plenty of firsts facing Newgarden at this year's Indianapolis 500. He's the first Middle Tennessean to start the race. It's his first time taking on the Indy 500. If he won, he'd be the first American rookie to do so since since Louis Meyer in 1928.
It's a lot of pressure, but if anyone has the right attitude to conquer it, it's Newgarden. He has the enthusiasm, the confidence and the swagger of a 21-year-old kid, but during practices, he's displayed the speed of a driver with far more experience.
In the opening practice, he finished with the best speed, then did it again on Monday, driving at 222.486 mph. Four days later, he was the fastest once again at 222.785. On Sunday, he will start seventh and will be the highest rookie qualifier since Danica Patrick started fourth in 2005, according to the Associated Press' Michael Marot.
Though there's a lot of hype surrounding Newgarden now, the early going of his career hasn't been easy. He finished in 11th place and in 17th place respectively in his first two events and then didn't finish at all in his next two events.
Newgarden told Sullivan:
A couple things I’ve been bitten on a little harder than I should have been. I got kind of caught off guard at a couple [races] by certain people. ... It’s learning lessons the hard way. I learned things about drivers that I didn’t know about until they actually happened. Sometimes that’s how you have to learn things.
Newgarden has taken those lessons for exactly what they are—valuable learning experiences—and will use them to his advantage on Sunday. The hardships have done nothing to sully his confidence, or, obviously, his speed in practices, which has garnered lots of attention.
None of the new-found fame is fazing him, though. He recently told Marot with a grin, "They're blinded by the speed, that's all it is. It's all smoke and mirrors."
Newgarden seems to have the perfect attitude heading into the race. The fact that he knows he has the speed to compete has given him confidence without making him cocky or disillusioned. He's been able to maintain faith in himself while simultaneously maintaining the proper respect for the rest of the field.
All of that might just add up to a winning formula on Sunday.