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Ed Carpenter Racing driver Josef Newgarden, of the United States, looks on during practice sessions at the Honda Toronto Indy in Toronto, Friday, July 15, 2016.

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

It hasn't always been good times and checkered flags for IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden.

The defending Honda Indy Toronto champion has overcome low points during his 2012 rookie season when he started 14 races and only led for one lap the entire year.

He didn't have a teammate, was dealing with a new car and was part of a small team.

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"About halfway through that year it got really difficult at certain points to have faith and motivation in what you were doing," Newgarden said Friday. "I just remember thinking, 'What is going on? I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know what we need from a big picture, whether that's a team thing or a car set up standpoint.' There was a lot going on.

"If you can imagine loving something so much, more than anything else in life and then losing your love for it. It's kind of an odd thing to happen, and then you regain it."

The 25-year-old said things really started clicking in 2014 and continued into last year when he captured the Indy Toronto.

"You learn the ups and downs," he said. "You learn the emotional roller coaster of racing. … it's up and down all year."

Newgarden enters this weekend's race on the streets surrounding Exhibition Place as a favourite. He's not only the defending champion but is coming off a win at last week's Iowa Corn 300, where he led for 282-of-300 laps.

"I think that's racing," he said. "You have one weekend where you're like the biggest jerk on the planet and everyone hates you and then the next weekend you have an amazing weekend and you're like the messiah again.

"To me, that's just racing in a nutshell."

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The Hendersonville, Tenn., native is currently second in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with 336 points, behind France's Simon Pagenaud.

Newgarden, who competes for Ed Carpenter Racing, was 16th after the first day of practice on Friday, finishing in 1 minute 2.7942 seconds. Pagenaud was fastest in 1:01.7081 with Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves, second (1:01.9091) and Will Power, third (1:02.0573).

Although there was a crash involving Pagenaud's fourth teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya – which left him unscathed – the Frenchman is a fan of the modified track this year.

"It's better for the fans because it looks more sketchy and will bring a better show."

James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., turned it around from a slow first practice to finish the day in fifth with a best lap of 1:02.1867.

Newgarden was sporting a wrap on his right hand as a result of a broken hand and right clavicle caused in a crash at Texas last month.

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Newgarden said he's been downgraded from a brace because it took up too much room in his car and he couldn't grip the wheel. But he says the hand still hurts.

"The hand is really what's bothering me, it's going to be a problem," Newgarden said. "It's healing. I just went and got X-rays this week."

Despite the ailing hand, Newgarden thinks he and his team have a good street-course car.

His best finish on a street course this year was fourth in the second leg of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on June 5. Newgarden struggled to a 22nd-place finish to start the season in St. Petersburg, was 10th on Long Beach and 14th in the first leg of the Detroit event.

He doesn't necessarily fell he's the man to beat this weekend despite last year's victory and the win in Iowa.

"I don't think we're going to walk away. [The] goal this weekend is to finish in [the] top six," Newgarden said. "If we can do that then we just need to have a clean race and then we'll fight for a podium or a win."

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