|Newgarden celebrates 2015 win|
Honda Indy Grand Prix defending champion Josef Newgarden is ready to get back on the Barber Motorsports track this weekend.
But, he said, there's no pressure in returning to the Alabama racetrack where he got his first IndyCar Series win last year.
"There's always pressure wherever you go," he said. "It's really no different being the defending winner. When you win somewhere, of course you feel more confident there."
(The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama takes place Sunday, April 24, at 2:30 p.m. at Barber Motorsports Park. The weekend kicks off Friday and has races and fan events all three days.)
Newgarden, a 25-year-old who hails from Hendersonville, Tenn., is a special breed on the Indy circuit.
He's young, and he's a Southerner.
And that's partly why he loves coming to the Barber track.
"I love Barber, it's close to Nashville, which is just three hours away," he said. "A lot of people call it my home track, and I guess you could call it that."
Newgarden won last year in a competition that saw him take the lead in lap 70 of the 90-lap race and then hold on for a 2-second win over Graham Rahal.
He finished the 2015 IndyCar Series season in seventh place with two race wins, and currently sits in 12th place in the 2016 standings after three races.
He moved to the IndyCar series in 2012, after winning the 2011 Indy Lights Championship with five race wins.
With the 2016 season so young still, Newgarden said that he feels like the offseason work done by his team will pay off.
"We had a really good offseason, with a lot of testing and a lot of simulation work. The engineers got a chance to look at a lot of things," he said. "We started off a little rough at St. Pete's, where we finished last because of mechanical problems. But we feel very confident now."
His approach toward each season is one of taking advance of opportunities—and not getting too distracted by success or failure.
"I'm actually not a very big 'goal' person," he said. "If we maximize each weekend, then everything else can take care of itself. A lot of people have goals for each race, but I think that can be a little too distracting."
"You can't spend your time thinking about championship points and everything else that goes with that," he said.
Newgarden said that his team is excited about heading to Barber at this point in the season.
"We drivers really like it a lot," he said. "It's got a lot of elevation, drivers like that, and it's sort of like a roller coaster."
"I do a lot of training, and Barber is a very physical track," he said.
The park also has a lot to offer fans, he said.
"It's really beautiful, so pristine, sort of like a perfect a golf course," he said. "And there are a lot of Indy fans in Alabama."
Newgarden said that it's not surprising that so many Indy fans reside in Alabama—and that so many come out to the Honda Indy Grand Prix.
Southern fans understand race car driving, and appreciate a good spectacle.
"It's a great way to spend a weekend," he said.
Newgarden himself is one of the few—maybe only—Southerners currently in the IndyCar Series. In a sport populated by many European and South American racers, it's a special position.
"It's such a unique mix of guys driving," he said. "And there are definitely not many Southerners in it." Cheryl Wray/AL.com