If Josef Newgarden can somehow win Sunday's Indianapolis 500, he has the personality to immediately become American open-wheel racing's next big star.
Newgarden, a confident and energetic 21-year-old who grew up in Nashville, won the Firestone Indy Lights Series last year (the equivalent of AAA baseball or the NASCAR Nationwide Series) and parlayed his success into a ride with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in the big show.
Now a rookie preparing to make his first Indy 500 start, Newgarden is taking a veteran approach to the biggest race of his career.
"If you start letting it get to you, that's when things start going bad," Newgarden said Thursday. "It's a huge event. It's just so big. There are so many people and so many sponsors and so many family members and crew members and all that. If you start letting that get to you, it's tough to focus on what you need to do.
"So you've just got to focus like it's another race, you've got a job at hand and you go and execute."
Newgarden led several practice sessions in the week leading up to the Indy 500 and he was the top-qualifying Honda driver (seventh overall). So if you're looking for a darkhorse pick, Newgarden might not be a bad choice.
After all, the driver who seems to have the mannerisms and optimism of Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Steve Letarte said he's positive he can block out the distractions and "try to not make it as big as it is."
"You just do it," he said. "You mentally tell yourself to do that, you know? There's no secret to it. I mean, maybe other guys have their routines or whatever. But what are you going to do, get a massage before the race?"