Josef Newgarden is starting to get comfortable in his role as an IZOD IndyCar Series driver and that could signal bad news for the rest of the paddock.
When Newgarden joined Sarah Fisher Racing prior to the 2012 season, it was the perfect marriage between a team that had quickly built a reputation of contention on ovals -- and had won the 2011 Kentucky race with Ed Carpenter -- and a driver that had honed his road in street skills in the European F1 ladder system.
The Tennessee-native has quickly adjusted to ovals and has become one of the more complete, if not raw talents in IndyCar. With one year under his belt, Newgarden believes this season represents a legitimate opportunity for him to challenge for podiums and perhaps his first career victory.
"We have a great program at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing right now," Newgarden told SB Nation by phone on Tuesday afternoon. "When you combine our current resources with the experience we compiled last season, I really think we can be a top-10 program. In fact, I think we have the capability to be even greater."
That's fairly high praise for a team that averaged an 18.2 finish last season. Newgarden insists that the numbers are not indicative of what he can produce if things go right over the course of a full-weekend. The driver says that he has to ‘figure out qualifying' and once he does, his race pace from over the first three races should keep him in contention.
"We have good race pace," Newgarden said. "It's been a little bit of everything that's held us back - distractions. We've had outside stuff that has hurt things. Silly stuff that we can't control and we just haven't got qualifying figured out at all."
Newgarden cited his best start of the season thus far - at Barber - where he started 22nd and rallied to ninth, despite just one early caution. He believes he had a top-five car that day but just didn't have the luck to put everything together.
Like everyone else in the paddock, Newgarden senses that opportunity that this season is presenting. The rules are keeping teams closer than they ever have been and a slow start by some of the traditional powers may give him a shot to win.
It's a real ‘why not us' approach.
"This Series is just a lot of fun to race in right now," Newgarden said. "On a week-to-week basis, there are 25 drivers that have a chance to win. The parity has been crazy over the past two years and this year is even closer. Every team is toying around with their set-ups and just scraping for everything they can get.
"We're working really hard because we know if the teams in front of us slip by even just a little, we're going to be there. It's the same behind us too."
Newgarden cut his teeth on the European ladder system with ambitions of becoming the next American Formula 1 driver. While he doesn't want to be anywhere else in his career right now, the 22-year-old still can't help but wonder what it would be like to chase the World Drivers' Championship or a variety of other disciplines as well.
"IndyCar is at the top of my list right now," Newgarden said. "There's a lot I want to achieve in this Series right now and that's my top priority. But I would love to do F1. I would love to do World Rally Cross, NASCAR and the 24 Hours at Daytona too. But it has to be the right situation - I really happy doing what I'm doing right now."
He'll no doubt be happier if the experience learned from his rookie season translates to a victory during this parity-laden 2013 season.