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Newgarden Leads IndyCar Season To Finish Line

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 3 2019
IndyCar Series points-leader Josef Newgarden warmed up for Sunday’s race in Portland by meeting with fans. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Team Penske’s Will Power continues to play spoiler in the NTT IndyCar Series championship chase, and teammate Josef Newgarden is loving it.

Power notched his second victory in three starts _ and 37th of his series career _ in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland as Newgarden extended his point lead with a fifth-place finish at Portland International Raceway. Newgarden added three points to his lead heading into the season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Sept. 22.

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Penske’s Simon Pagenaud finished third and seventh, respectively, but were unable to significantly improve their title chances. Newgarden, the 2017 champion, holds a 41-point lead over Rossi, a 42-point advantage on 2016 champ Pagenaud and pushed five-time/reigning champion Scott Dixon (minus-85 points) closer to elimination heading into the double-point finale.

“I would have liked more points, but at the end of the day, it’s not a bad result for us,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “You know, I made our bed for us in qualifying. You start 13th you kind of put yourself in a hole already, and we just tried to climb out of it as best as possible. I don’t think we can be mad about where we climbed to. It was pretty decent.

Alexander Rossi and Will Power earned podium finishes at Portland over the weekend.

“We just need to have a better weekend in Laguna. Obviously, it’s still going to be quite tough with the double points. If it wasn’t double points I think it would be a lot easier, but double points is going to make it difficult.”

Rossi agreed the double-point payout will make the finale worth watching. “Obviously, double points creates a lot of opportunity,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Honda. “We saw what happened in 2015 with (Juan Pablo Montoya) and Scott, so we’ll just go try and win, and hopefully the rest takes care of itself.

“Yeah, I think it (third Sunday) was kind of the best we could do. I think that we didn’t have the pace of the two leaders, which is the most disappointing part. We were kind of just stuck in third, and I felt like we had Colton (Herta) covered, but couldn’t really challenge Will and Felix (Rosenqvist). So good job to them. But yeah, Josef came from a pretty disappointing _ or bad first lap for him _ and still finished fifth.”

Newgarden can secure the Astor Cup and the accompanying $1-million bonus by finishing fourth or better in Monterey.

Newgarden and Pagenaud (18th) started deep in the 23-car field, placing both in peril when Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal (No. 15 Honda) bounced into the side of Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach (No. 26 Honda) moments after the start. Newgarden braked hard and kept his car unscathed, but a trailing Pagenaud spun off a hit from Carlin’s Max Chilton (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet). Fortunately for Pagenaud, his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet sustained no significant damage and the Frenchman was able to continue.

“(Scott) Dixon has done it from 45 points back, so we’re in it,” said Pagenaud, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion. “It’s awesome to go to Laguna with a chance at the championship. I’m determined. We had a really good race despite all the problems at the start. It’s the championship so you have to be there. So even when days are tough…rebounding from 18th to finish seventh was a really good performance. We made all right decisions in the race.

“But the biggest thing is that we are in it. We’re going to Laguna at a chance at the championship, which is really exciting. Anything can happen there with double points. Anything is possible.”

Newgarden is of the same mindset after avoiding the first-lap chaos. “It happened right in front of me in Turn 1, so I was in the mess,” Newgarden said. “But fortunately we didn’t touch anything, it was just right in front of us. I stopped and then went around it and we got going again.

“Yeah, I flat-spotted my right front just a little bit. It was really low-speed so it wasn’t terrible, but I was just trying to stop. I had nowhere to go because it was right in front of me. The decision-making process, I couldn’t really go right because Rahal was coming right at that moment and then once they hit, they were kind of flowing to the left, and then I was just kind of stuck right in the middle. So I just waited for it all to stop and then went around it. I was kind of lucky in a way.”

Ironically, Newgarden could be on a Dixon-like path to the title. Last year, Dixon avoided major contact in a first-corner incident at PIR to finish fifth. 

“Maybe we’ve got Scott’s mojo,” Newgarden joked. “It was like Scott could do no wrong last year. Nothing ever bad happened to him. It’s like he’s got the complete opposite of what he had last year. That’s INDYCAR. Sometimes this cycles around. You’ll get the good years, you’ll get the bad. Hopefully, we continue to have a good year in Laguna and then kind of finish it off because you never know when you’re going to have a bad year again. It’s far from over, but I for sure would rather be in the position we are in instead of second or third.”

Dixon’s current mojo truly is trending downward. A week after his car’s radiator punctured on the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway oval, Dixon’s No. 9 Honda suffered a battery failure while leading on Lap 52 of the scheduled 105. Dixon was working on a three-second lead over Power but the ensuing pit stop dropped Scott three laps behind. He finished 16th.

“I just hate giving away an easy win like that,” Dixon said.

Power inherited the lead and controlled the remainder of the event to move into a tie for sixth place in career wins with Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. Power’s margin of victory was 2.7885-seconds over Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Rosenqvist (No. 10 Honda) on the 1.964-mile/12-turn permanent road-course.

Power was forced to deal with a restart with four laps remaining but avoided any challenges by Rosenqvist by opening up a 1.4-second advantage on the first lap of green flag racing. Rosenqvist’s runnerup result matched his previous career-best at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

“I mean, I’m pretty hungry for a win,” said Rosenqvist, a native of Sweden. “You know, we’ve been kind of close two times. I thought Mid-Ohio was definitely closer, but we’ve definitely been there and we’ve been there on merit, as well. It hasn’t been like a fluke result.

“I’m definitely aiming for a win in Laguna, and when we tested there in January, I thought our car felt good. Obviously, it was really cold, so probably not much to read into it. But it’s an awesome track and I think it suits my style and also it’s new for everyone, which probably benefits me because many drivers here have done a bunch of most tracks. So yeah, all-in for Laguna.

“And Rookie of the Year? Yeah, I mean, normally we would care more about the real championship, but we’re not fighting for it, so the Rookie of the Year is definitely a fun bonus championship. There have been a lot of good drivers, Santino (Ferrucci) and Marcus (Ericsson) and Colton (Herta), and every one of them have been very quick, so it’s going to be hard.”

Pole-winner Herta, driver of the No. 88 Honda fielded by Harding Steinbrenner Racing, finished fourth.

Power’s victory at PIR was his first at the track where he made his Indy car testing debut in 2005.

“Actually that’s true,” said Power, who competed in two Champ Car World Series races with Team Australia in 2005. “This was my very first track I ever drove at in the U.S. That was my first test. I forgot that. It was the first place I came to, so it’s awesome to win here. I remember that going down the back straight thinking to myself, ‘I could get paid to do this.’ It was a great feeling because the car had so much power. I was just like, ‘Man, getting paid to do this, this would be awesome,’ and it actually happened. It’s great.”

INDYCAR will conclude its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 22. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).

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Richmond Raceway’s return to open-wheel racing will be announced Tuesday during a news conference scheduled by sanctioning body INDYCAR for 1 p.m. (EDT) at the facility in Virginia.

The IndyCar Series will hold a race at Richmond International Raceway in 2020. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Richmond’s addition the 2020 Series schedule will be confirmed in-person by Mark Miles, CEO, INDYCAR; Jay Frye, president, INDYCAR, and Dennis Bickmeier, president of Richmond Raceway. Also scheduled to attend are Scott Dixon, the series’ five-time/reigning champion from Chip Ganassi Racing, and Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion now driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. Dixon won the most recent Indy car race at Richmond in 2009 while Kanaan won at the track in 2008 driving for Andretti Green Racing.

Richmond’s 0.75-mile oval will replace Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile oval on a 17-race schedule after a seven-year run under INDYCAR sanction. Team Penske’s Will Power won the rain-shortened ABC Supply 500 at Long Pond, Pa., on Aug. 18. 

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Results of the Grand Prix of Portland IndyCar Series event on the 1.964-mile/12-turn Portland International Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 105, Running

2. (5) Felix Rosenqvist-(R), Honda, 105, Running

3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 105, Running

4. (1) Colton Herta-(R), Honda, 105, Running

5. (13) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 105, Running

6. (10) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 105, Running

7. (18) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 105, Running

8. (21) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 105, Running

9. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 105, Running

10. (22) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 105, Running

11. (20) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 104, Running

12. (19) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 104, Running

13. (16) Marco Andretti, Honda, 104, Running

14. (23) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 104, Running

15. (17) Takuma Sato, Honda, 103, Running

16. (3) Scott Dixon, Honda, 102, Running

17. (14) Santino Ferrucci-(R), Honda, 96, Mechanical

18. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 81, Contact

19. (4) Jack Harvey, Honda, 13, Contact

20. (8) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 0, Contact

21. (9) Conor Daly, Honda, 0, Contact

22. (11) Zach Veach, Honda, 0, Contact

23. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 0, Contact

Note: (R) denotes series rookie.

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 104.225 mph

Time of Race: 1:58:43.0036

Margin of victory: 2.7885-seconds

Cautions: 3 for 17 laps

Lead changes: 7 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:

Herta, Colton 1 – 36

Dixon, Scott 37 – 40

Rosenqvist, Felix 41

Bourdais, Sebastien 42 – 44

Dixon, Scott 45 – 51

Power, Will 52 – 72

Rosenqvist, Felix 73 – 74

Power, Will 75 – 105

NTT IndyCar Series point standings _1, Joseph Newgarden, Team Penske, 593; 2, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 552; 3, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 551; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 508; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 469; 6, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 397; 7, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 380; 8, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 365; 9, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 353; 10, Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing, 339.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 3 2019
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