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Josef Newgarden at St. Pete.

Source: Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment / other

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — “There’s no doubt that we were in breach of the rules,” said Josef Newgarden on Friday on the scandal that has shaken Team Penske to its core this week.

Newgarden and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Will Power were penalized this week by the NTT IndyCar Series for illegally using their cars’ overtake systems, known as Push-To-Pass, during their dominating weekend at St. Petersburg to open the season.

Newgarden won the race, McLaughlin finished third, and Power fourth. Newgarden and McLaughlin were disqualified from their race results and Power was only docked ten drivers championship points. Pato O’Ward was elevated to the winner of the race.

The issue stems from when Team Penske left code in their cars’ computer software from hybrid engine testing that essentially circumvented IndyCar’s regulation of Push-To-Pass on starts and restarts during the race. This made Push-To-Pass available to Penske drivers at times when it was not supposed to be.

Newgarden said he did not knowingly break the rules, but he said the whole thing is still his fault.

“That responsibility and the use of the Push-To-Pass in the correct manner falls completely on me,” Newgarden said. “It is my responsibility to know the rules and regulations at all points. With that regard, I failed my team miserably.”

It’s for that reason that Power was not disqualified from the race. He was found to have not used overtake illegally despite it being illegally available to him. Newgarden and McLaughlin did use it.

Newgarden, who fought back tears during the whole press conference, called the whole situation “embarrassing” and “demoralizing.” He said there was no accident in him hitting the P2P button on his steering wheel. He said he did hit it. But, Newgarden said it’s easy for drivers to hit the button out of habit, regardless of if P2P is active. IndyCar regulates whether P2P is active or not throughout any particular race.

“We’ve had jokes (among the drivers) where ‘Oh, hit the overtake button, just hit it, maybe it’ll work’,” Newgarden said. “That’s a true joke. Out of habit, it’s not unusual for people to hit when it’s before it’s activated. It’s very easy to do.”

IndyCar discovered the issue on the Penske cars during the final warm-up at Long Beach. The Penske cars were the only cars able to use the Push-To-Pass during the warm-up, which prompted IndyCar to look at the problem deeper. It was at that time they figured out the Penske cars had the hybrid overtake software still installed.

Many in the IndyCar paddock have voiced lots of skepticism of Penske’s assertion that it was an “honest mistake.” Newgarden said he understands their skepticism and that he can’t control how they see the situation.

Newgarden described the situation saying that he and his team were “convinced” that the rules had been changed on the use of Push-To-Pass for the season. At Thermal, Push-To-Pass was allowed on starts and restarts. Newgarden said his team believed that rule changes to apply to the season and not just the Thermal race.

This has many in the IndyCar paddock puzzled.

“I even talked with Jay Frye (IndyCar president) about it … even he had a hard time believing it,” said Newgarden. “I didn’t leave St. Pete thinking we pull one over on somebody. I didn’t even know we did something wrong until this week.”

When asked how Roger Penske took the news of the penalty, Newgarden said the conversation “did not go well.” He likened the conversation to that of an “interrogation.”

For Newgarden the focus now is on moving on from the whole thing. He said he intends to do what he can to rebuild trust among those in the paddock and among the IndyCar fanbase.

“I feel better now (that he’s spoken on the scandal). I’m still excited for this weekend,” he said.

The series will race at Barber Motorsports Park this Sunday in the third round of the NTT IndyCar Series season. It’s the final leg before teams will descend on Indianapolis for the Month of May.

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