Driver Josef Newgarden accepts blame for breaking rules in IndyCar scandal

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden blinked back tears Friday as he accepted blame for manipulating the push-to-pass system in his season-opening IndyCar win that has since been stripped, calling it an embarrassment. The two-time series champion insisted he is “not a liar” and didn’t intentionally break the rules.

Newgarden gave an emotional 25-minute news conference at Barber Motorsports Park in his first public comments since IndyCar punished him Wednesday by taking away his March 10 victory at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I want to deeply apologize to our fans, our partners, my teammates, the competitors that I race against,” Newgarden said. “Anybody that’s in our community. I’ve worked my entire career to hold myself to a very high standard and clearly I’ve fallen very short of that in this respect. It’s a difficult thing to wrestle with. It’s a very embarrassing thing to go through.”

Newgarden said the disqualification and stripping of the win was “absolutely” the right decision by the open-wheel series whose owner, Roger Penske, also runs Newgarden’s team and is one of the giants in motorsports. The decision has thrown IndyCar into turmoil as IndyCar prepares for next month’s showcase Indianapolis 500.

“It’s crushing. I’m going to look back on it, too, and say I don’t want that win on my books, either,” Newgarden said, his voice wavering. “I don’t want it. I’m glad they’re taking it away. If it was tainted, I don’t want to be near it. Unfortunately it is. I can’t reverse that in time. It’s good what’s happened.”

Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin, who finished third, also was disqualified while fourth-place finisher Will Power was docked 10 points though he wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing. The Penske drivers were fined $25,000 because the manipulated systems were on all three cars.

Team Penske has maintained that the push-to-pass system on its three Chevrolets was used in a test session for upcoming hybrid engines and then mistakenly not replaced before the start of the season. It remained on the cars for three races and onboard videos clearly show Newgarden illegally using push-to-pass to gain position on at least one restart at St. Petersburg.

IndyCar prohibits the use of the system on starts and restarts and the button isn’t even supposed to work on those occasions. The issue was discovered Sunday in California when a glitch knocked push-to-pass out on all cars except the three Penske entries. IndyCar examined the units, found them to be illegal, and forced the team to correct the systems before the Long Beach race.

Penske, Newgarden said, “did not take it well. I was interrogated at first.”

“I’ve not met somebody with higher integrity than that man, and I mean that,” Newgarden said, adding that he met with IndyCar President Jay Frye on Thursday and could tell that Frye also found Newgarden’s explanation implausible.

Team Penske President Tim Cindric has denied any intentional wrongdoing.

“To say we purposefully did this to get an advantage, I don’t know how you come to that conclusion, unless it’s what you want to believe,” Cindric told The Indianapolis Star.

Newgarden, featured on the season opener of “100 Days to Indy” airing Friday night, said he didn’t know he had broken the rules until Monday, the day after the manipulated systems were discovered during morning warmup at Long Beach. He choked back tears several times when addressing the incident, including when asked what he has to do to regain the trust of his competitors, some of whom have been outspoken in their skepticism that it was unintentional.

“I don’t know how you do that,” Newgarden said. “I don’t know that anybody’s going to believe what I’ve told you here today. And that’s OK. It’s a crazy set of circumstances to try to wrestle with. It’s certainly not going to come with words. I’ll just try and earn it through action.”


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