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Free Agent Newgarden Uncertain About Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 27 2016
Josef Newgarden is the IndyCar Series' most-prized free agent and rumors are circulating in the Texas Motor Speedway paddocks this weekend. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Josef Newgarden is the IndyCar Series’ most-prized free agent and rumors are circulating in the Texas Motor Speedway paddocks this weekend. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Relegated to the role of reluctant spectator, Josef Newgarden will meet-and-greet fans attending Saturday night’s Firestone 600 (The Resumption) at Texas Motor Speedway before watching his already slim Verizon IndyCar Series championship hopes fade into the late-summer darkness.

bugindynotesIt’s a scenario that has amped-up speculation about Newgarden’s future at Ed Carpenter Racing once the 2016 season ends and he becomes the series’ most coveted free agent.

“Our season ends a little bit shorter than the NASCAR side, kind of late September,” Newgarden said during a recent interview. “So I’ve kind of taken the approach I’m going to wait until the end of the season. We have a shot to win our championship on the INDYCAR side, a little of an outside shot now, but we still have an opportunity so we’re focusing on that.”

Newgarden, who finished fourth last Monday in the rain-delayed ABC Supply 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, currently sits third in the point standings _ 100 behind leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske and 80 behind runnerup Will Power, also of Team Penske. Newgarden is among 15 drivers mathematically eligible for the 2016 championship. Saturday night’s race in Fort Worth, the Sept. 4 event on the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road-course and season-finale at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on Sept. 18 remain.

Newgarden was coy when discussing his options recently at WGI, site of next weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. “I think that in all fairness to my team currently and where it goes from there I’m not really sure,” Newgarden said.  “I’m on a great team. I really like Ed Carpenter Racing. They’ve treated me better than I think they probably need to. So I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’ll cross that bridge when our season ends. So I honestly don’t know where I’m going to end up next year.”

Speculation continues that Newgarden, 25, could command a ride with either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing once the championship is sorted, beginning Saturday night on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval.

Recall that Newgarden was knocked out of the rain-delayed Firestone 600 on June 12 in a

Ed Carpenter is currently Josef Newgarden's team owner and teammate. That could change after the season. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Ed Carpenter is currently Josef Newgarden’s team owner and teammate. That could change after the season. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

grinding crash triggered by series rookie Conor Daly on Lap 42. Originally scheduled for Saturday night, June 11, and postponed by a Texas gully-washer, the race was started the following afternoon but red-flagged due to rain after 71 laps with James Hinchcliffe in the lead.

Newgarden was working his way around Daly when Daly’s car broke loose, collecting Newgarden’s No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and sending the Tennessee native into the wall upside down. Newgarden sustained a broken right clavicle and broken right hand in the accident. Fourteen days after the crash, Newgarden drove to an eighth-place finish at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., with his clavicle surgically repaired and a brace on his hand.

One month after the accident, Newgarden dominated the event at Iowa Speedway by leading 282 of 300 laps en route to his first oval-track IndyCar Series win. However, INDYCAR officials already had ruled on June 24 that neither Newgarden nor Daly would be permitted to participate in Saturday’s TMS event “due to the extensive chassis and engine damage each sustained in a crash on Lap 42.” Newgarden will be awarded points for a 22nd-place finish at TMS.

Newgarden said at Watkins Glen that while he had a “huge interest” in NASCAR, open-wheel racing “has always been very near and dear to me since I was a kid. I just thought open-wheel cars were…to me they were just the coolest-looking cars on the planet, so fast and so unique-looking. You couldn’t really go buy that car, it was so different than anything else.

“That’s always going to have, I think, a special place for me and I don’t plan on diverging from INDYCAR. I think that’s where I want to be. I want to win Indy 500s, Indy car championships. But I would love to see guys crossing over more. I think you’re seeing more interest from the NASCAR guys now…I know a lot of guys that want to come run the Indy 500.

“I hope to be able run an INDYCAR weekend one race weekend and the next go to a NASCAR event and run NASCAR…I think that would be awesome. For me personally, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do that. It’s not possible at the moment but in the coming years, that’s a big goal of mine. I would like to be able to run simultaneously INDYCAR and NASCAR.  Hopefully we’ll see more of that.”

Although he never has driven a NASCAR stocker, “I would love to at some point,” Newgarden said.

Prior to Saturday’s race, Newgarden and Daly will join TMS President Eddie Gossage in welcoming fans into the track. The three will scan tickets and hand out souvenir programs and T-shirts to fans entering Gate 4 from 7:15 to 8 p.m. (EDT).

Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, will lead the field around the high-banked layout for the 177 laps/257.535-miles remaining of the originally slated 248 laps/360.84 miles when the green flag falls at 9:16 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. NBCSN will begin its telecast at 9 p.m.  The race also will be carried by the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and affiliates Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. The half-hour practice session at 5:30 p.m. will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. 

“Certainly we hope the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car ends up where we are now _ in the lead,” said Hinchcliffe, addressing the 76-day delay. “But we know it’s a pretty unique situation with the restart and the parc ferme, so we’ll see how it plays-out. I’m going to miss people reminding me I’m leading on Twitter, so hopefully we win and can keep the trend going.”

Cars must be in the aerodynamic configuration they were in when the race was red-flagged. The only exception will be the front wing angle. Lap-count will begin the first time by the start/finish line upon exiting pit lane. Also, each entrant will be allotted one new set of Firestone tires for the mandatory install lap and practice session. Entrants will be allotted six new sets for the race.

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Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship for the first time in his career by 20 points over teammate Will Power with three races to be completed. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway. With 54 maximum points available in Fort Worth, the point lead could change for the second time in 2015.

“Pocono didn’t go very well, but that happens,” said Pagenaud, who wrecked and finished 18th at the “Tricky Triangle” in his No. 22 Chevrolet. “I wish it hadn’t, but we have to move on and put it behind us. The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy will (re)start 15th, but that’s not indicative of the car we had or will have. We pitted later in the sequence than some of the other teams. There’s a lot of racing left. We don’t lose sight of the big picture, but that’s not the strategy. We got to where we are by attacking and being on the offensive. That’s not going to change. We’ll focus on winning races.”

Historically, the driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the championship in five of the last six seasons. Power in 2014 is the exception. The 20 points separating Pagenaud and Power is the third-smallest margin with three races remaining since 2010. Power led Helio Castroneves of Team Penske by four points in 2014 and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport by five points in 2012. The average deficit with three races to go since 2010 is 23.16 points.

“Texas is one of my favorite races,” said Power, who posted his fourth victory of the season and 29th of his career at Pocono. “It’s always a lot of fun with the speeds we get there. The No. 12 Verizon Chevy was awesome in Pocono and (re)starting fourth in Texas puts us in a great position to continue our momentum. Everything has been feeling great recently after starting off the season in such a bad place, personally. The whole team is clicking on all cylinders now and you have to get all you can when it’s going that way.”

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Here are the 15 drivers mathematically eligible for the 2016 series championship _ Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. Any driver who trails the point leader by 158 points or more following the race at TMS will be eliminated.

Three drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Pocono on Monday _ Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly.

Since the inaugural “Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” at TMS in June 1997, the winning driver has claimed the championship six times _ Sam Hornish Jr. (2001 Race 2; 2002 Race 2); Kanaan (2004 Race 1), Dixon (2008 and 2015) and Dario Franchitti (2011 Race 1). Castroneves, Dixon, Kanaan and Power all have won races at TMS. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan have seven podium finishes; Pagenaud’s best finish was fourth in 2014.

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A special guest will join Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage to announce the addition of a new series to the 2017 race schedule during a press conference scheduled for 6:30 p.m. (EDT) in the Infield Media Center deadline room.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 27 2016
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