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Penske Drivers Win Race, Championship At Sonoma

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 18 2017

Josef Newgarden celebrates his 2017 IndyCar Series championship with members of his Penske team. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Penske Perfection put an almost-predictable wrap on Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. While Simon Pagenaud won the Verizon IndyCar Series 2017 season-finale, teammate Josef Newgarden finished second to secure the championship for domestic open-wheel racing’s most successful organization.

Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, out-hustled Newgarden to the finish line by 1.0986-seconds to win the 85-lapper in Northern California’s wine country. It was the Frenchman’s 11th career victory and second straight on the 2.385-mile/12-turn permanent road-course. Pagenaud won the event from pole position one year ago to claim his first championship in his second season of competition for team-owner Roger Penske.

A four-time winner this season, Newgarden one-upped Pagenaud Sunday by clinching his first title as a Penske “rookie” and the $1-million champion’s prize. The 26-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tenn., distanced Pagenaud by 13 points in the final standings to become the first American driver to win the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport in 2012.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, who made his 100th career start in the finale. “It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske. To finally get it done

Simon Pagenaud won Sunday’s season-ending IndyCar Series race in California.

is a dream come true. It’s too awesome.”

Newgarden exited Ed Carpenter Racing to join Team Penske last offseason. Sunday’s effort was the latest example of why he was the series’ most sought-after free agent.

“I was using my natural instincts,” Newgarden said.”I was trying to get Pagenaud there (in the closing laps) because that’s what I normally do. I try to win the race whenever possible. They were telling me to be patient and not do something stupid. I tried to get him, but I also tried not to do anything dumb for the team.

“Like I said, this has been a team effort. So, I’m happy for Pagenaud. He had the pace to win today, for sure; he’s very deserving. This entire group makes this happen. I’m so thankful and happy with everything that Team Penske has done. Congrats to everyone at the factory. This is an amazing amount of work that goes into this.”

The championship is the 15th for Team Penske, easily the most decorated team in Indy car history. Newgarden joined an all-star lineup featuring Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr., Will Power and Pagenaud as Team Penske drivers to have won an Indy car title.

“I’ve had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don’t have a favorite,” Penske said. “I can’t compare (Newgarden) to anyone exactly. He’s an American, which is special in this sport because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world. To see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting.”

Newgarden and Pagenaud dominated the point all afternoon. AJ Foyt Racing’s Conor Daly, who led Laps 18-20, was the only non-Penske driver to race from P1. Daly finished 10th for the team owned by open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr. In addition, only 12 of the 22 starters finished on the lead-lap.

The race ran caution-free for the first time in Sonoma Raceway history, which now spans 14 Indy car events. Newgarden and Pagenaud each led 41 laps. Pagenaud opted for a four-stop strategy to Newgarden’s three pit stops, but the Frenchman made up the extra time in pit lane by turning faster laps on an open track.

The decisive race moment came when Pagenaud made his final stop from the lead for fuel and tires on Lap 64. He returned to the track just ahead of the charging Newgarden and held onto first place as the teammates battled around the track. From there, Pagenaud kept Newgarden in his mirrors to the finish.

Remarkably, Pagenaud completed all 2,331 laps this season to become just the second driver to accomplish that feat. Tony Kanaan was the first, completing all 3,305 laps en route to winning the 2004 championship for Andretti Green Racing.

“We did what we had to do,” said Pagenaud. “We tried. We won the race; it wasn’t enough. It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong in every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year, so we’ll come back. Thirteen points. Next year we’ll come back and give him a hell of a competition again.

“I think our team this weekend and the whole season showed how strong everybody is at Team Penske. Back-to-back champions. It’s phenomenal. Great testament to a great team spirit and I’m very happy for Josef. He deserves it.”

Power, the 2014 series champion, gave “The Captain” a race podium sweep by placing third.

Scott Dixon finished fourth for Chip Ganassi Racing to clinch third in the standings, 23 points behind Newgarden. It marked the 11th time in his brilliant 17-year career that Dixon, a four-time series champion, has finished in the top three in points.

“It just seems like the No. 3 car (of Penske’s Helio Castroneves) covered us,” Dixon said. ”Every time we short-pitted they followed us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got into clean air, we were able to make up ground, but every time we got into traffic we got real loose. Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew but obviously not the way we wanted to finish. A big congrats to Penske and Josef on a job well-done.”

Castroneves wrapped up fourth in the standings by finishing fifth. Completing his 20th year racing Indy cars, the 42-year-old Brazilian still is searching for his first series championship.

The outcome was bittersweet as Sunday’s race likely was Castroneves’ last as a fulltime series driver. A three-time Indianapolis 500 champion, Castroneves is rumored to be headed to Penske’s start-up IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program in an Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype (DPi) in 2018.

“I’m always going to focus on the positive thing,” said Castroneves, reflecting on his season. “I’m not going to focus on Texas (Motor Speedway) when we had a problem, or other races that I missed strategy or made mistakes. You’ve got to think about, again, it was another season that we pushed as hard as we could and another top-four.

“And again, sometimes it’s funny because you see the statistics, finished second _ I finished second four times (2002, 2008, 2013, 2014). But it was more times…the P4 is not what it represents because we were in a battle a lot more years than that. And that’s what I look at. I look because each year that’s what kept me motivated to come back and push hard, and that for me was hard. Sometimes it’s _ well, I try, but to get one _ it’s easy to follow from that position, but to keep up like I’ve been doing all these years, I think it’s the hardest thing to do.”

Castroneves made his 344th career start Sunday. He has logged 30 wins, 50 pole positions (including three this year), 93 top-three finishes, 141 top-fives, 226 top-10s, 169 races-led (including 10 this year), 6,036 laps-led (including 442 this year) and 279 races running at the finish (including 16 of 17 this year).

“It doesn’t just happen,” Castroneves said. “It comes with a great team. It comes with great dedication from your guys, great trust, and obviously, myself to keep motivated, finding ways to keep pushing. And having teammates like I have today, no question, helped me to become a better driver. The Hitachi Chevrolet team was great all season and I can’t thank them enough for their hard work dedication.”

By finishing third, Power earned fifth place in the final standings. “It was pretty obvious a couple races ago that we were in trouble after Gateway (Motorsports Park), so yeah, I mean, it’s great for the team,” Power said. “Obviously, you want to be the one that wins it, but it’s very tough these days and you’ve got to have a very solid year to get it done. And when I look at this year, no one made mistakes.

“You see the top six there, top six or seven are the top six or seven almost every race. We had some ups and downs but it was a good year. We won some races and some poles. We’ll give it another go next year.”

In what figures to be a busy offseason of seat-swapping, Kanaan likely completed his fourth and final season with team-owner Chip Ganassi. Kanaan, who extended his consecutive streak to 282 race starts dating to June 2001, is rumored to be headed to AJ Foyt Racing for the2018 season.

“I’d say overall, it’s been a difficult season for myself and the No. 10 NTT Data Honda,” said Kanaan, who was hit from behind on the opening lap and finished one lap down in 16th. “We’ve had a lot of things go wrong that we couldn’t control and some that we could, but I’m going into the offseason very optimistic about next season. I want to thank Chip and the whole Chip Ganassi Racing team for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this team and I wish them nothing but the best.”

An hour-long television special documenting the 2017 season and Newgarden’s championship run is scheduled to air on NBC Sports Network on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. (EDT).  

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Results Sunday of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.385-mile/12-turn Sonoma Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running 
2. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (4) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
7. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
8. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
9. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
10. (13) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (15) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
12. (14) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
13. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Running
15. (22) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 84, Running 
16. (12) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
17. (21) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 84, Running
18. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
19. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 69, Off-Course
20. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 62, Off-Course 
21. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
22. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 52, Electrical 

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 104.968 mph
Time of Race: 1-hour, 55:52.6840-minutes
Margin of victory: 1.0986-seconds
Cautions: 0
Lead changes: 6 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Newgarden 1-17 
Daly 18-20 
Pagenaud 21-29 
Newgarden 30-39 
Pagenaud 40-47 
Newgarden 48-61 
Pagenaud 62-85 

2017 Verizon IndyCar Series final point standings: Newgarden 642, Pagenaud 629, Dixon 621, Castroneves 598, Power 562, Rahal 522, Rossi 494, Sato 441, Hunter-Reay 421, Kanaan 403.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 18 2017
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