By Sandra McKee
The Baltimore Sun
7:47 PM EDT, August 28, 2012
Car owner Sarah Fisher knows what's going on. She has a young, rookie driver, who has yet to bag a Top 10 finish due to no fault of his own and caught the eyes of other car owners. She knows they may try to steal him away.
"I know there are feelers out there," she said. "I take it as a compliment to me and [co-owner Wink Hartman] on our ability to spot the talent. Our job is to give Josef the fastest car with the best strategist we know.
"We're making it a home for him. I'd be super surprised if he left us. He's contracted here for five years. It wouldn't be pretty."
Josef Newgarden, 21, won't be racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Baltimore this Sunday. Instead, he'll be recovering from surgery to repair his broken left index finger. Veteran driver Bruno Junqueira will sub into the seat. Newgarden is expected back in time to race in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Sept. 15.
"I'm really disappointed to not be in the car this weekend, but I know Bruno will do a great job for SFHR," Newgarden said through his public relations representative after the surgery. "I'll be in Baltimore helping Bruno and the team in any way I can and focusing on healing for Fontana."
Newgarden, who was injured in a frightening crash when another car slammed into him last weekend in the Grand Prix of Sonoma, won the Firestone Indy Lights championship last year with five wins. He has been trying hard all season to break into the winner's circle on the IndyCar circuit.
Though he hasn't yet made it, his seat in the Fisher Hartman car is one many other young drivers would like to have.
"The rumors have been picking up," he said, over a recent lunch in Baltimore before his injury. "I've heard the rumors. For me, though, it's too early to talk about. There are some open seats. There is discussion about who might be retiring or moving on. There are a couple young guys coming up. I'm one, the next generation of kids.
"But I want to focus on my current situation. I wouldn't be here without Sarah and my sponsors. They've given me a very big opportunity."
Newgarden didn't start racing until he was 13, but he never felt he was behind in the sport. He has been raised in a family that loved racing. His father, Joey, and his grandfather were strong racing fans.
"My dad tried to race when he was younger, but he didn't have the money," Newgarden said. "He went into photography, as a photographer at first and then on the business side for 30 years before he sold it.
"His best and most often given advice is to 'just be Josef.' It annoys the hell out of me. I know what he means, just be myself, but it annoys me so much. I just say, 'I know, Dad. I got it.'"
He's trying to hold to that advice as he and his team work towards getting to the front of the field. Newgarden is used to winning and Fisher Hartman racing got its first team victory last October with driver Ed Carpenter, who moved on to form his own team.
Now Fisher and Newgarden are trying to find the right combinations to get back to victory lane.
Fisher is the one with the pro experience. She became the first woman to own an IndyCar team in 2008. Before that, she drove in the series for then-car owner Derrick Walker, who signed her as a 19-year-old. Once in the series, she went on to become the fastest woman to ever qualify for the Indianapolis 500, at 229.439 mph. She also holds the record for most starts by a female at Indy with nine.
On top of that, she was the sports' four-time most popular driver.
What she couldn't manage was a win, until last year when Carpenter won at Kentucky Speedway.
With Newgarden, she has a fast, precocious rookie, who is absorbing every bit of knowledge offered to him and longing for a win.
"A win is my goal," he said. "I don't think it's unachievable and it's important to aim high. ... The biggest thing for us to remember is this is the team's first full season. And this is my first full season.
"The growth of the team is not fully realized yet. We're still trying to find out what needs to be done differently. It's all part of the growing process. Obviously, it's not easy to achieve victory."
A broken finger is just one more difficult bump in a long road.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun