DQ’d Newgarden: Didn’t know rules were broken

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Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden blinked back tears Friday as he accepted blame for using a manipulated push-to-pass system in his season-opening IndyCar win that has since been stripped, calling it an embarrassment.

Newgarden insisted he is “not a liar” and said he didn’t know he had broken the rules until Monday, the day after the manipulated systems were discovered during morning warmups at Long Beach.

The two-time series champion choked back tears several times, 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 his and his team’s actions were 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.”

Newgarden’s 25-minute news conference at Barber Motorsports Park marked 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. The decision has thrown IndyCar into turmoil as the series 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. “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, and fourth-place finisher Will Power was docked 10 points although he wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing. The Penske drivers were fined $25,000 because the manipulated systems were on all three cars.

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.

Newgarden acknowledged using the push-to-pass system in multiple instances at St. Petersburg and said he could feel the added boost. But he said he thought at the time that perhaps the rules had changed to allow the additional speed throughout the race.

McLaughlin said in a statement Wednesday that he had been unaware of the glitch in the software and used “a single, very brief, [1.9-second] deployment” of push-to-pash in a routine part of the circuit.

Other drivers, however, are not ready to accept Newgarden’s or Team Penske’s explanation for what happened.

“That’s bulls—. That’s wrong,” said Andretti Global driver Colton Herta, according to The Indianapolis Star. “If he thought that, why didn’t he push it at the start? He didn’t. He did at the restart. You’d think when everybody is stacked up the most, you would.

“So that’s a lie.”

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

Newgarden said he had spoken with Penske, who “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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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