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Newgarden Builds On A Winning Reputation

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 24 2019
Josef Newgarden won his second IndyCar Series championship on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Emotionally worn-out, Josef Newgarden joined the ranks of INDYCAR’s multiple champions in the 2019 season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on a day when mercurial rookie Colton Herta previewed his emerging title aspirations.

Team Penske’s Newgarden clinched his second NTT IndyCar Series title in the last three years with a follow-the-plan, eighth-place finish in Sunday’s double-point race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The 28-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn., joined Team Penske alum Sam Hornish Jr. (2001-02, 2006) as the only Americans to win multiple series crowns since 1995.

“I’m just happy it’s done with, to be honest with you,” said Newgarden, who began the day with a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport and finished with a 25-point advantage over Penske’s Simon Pagenaud. “It’s just such a stressful deal with double points (100 to win). I hated it. I hated thinking about it, and I know we didn’t build up enough of a gap to make it super-easy on ourselves, and I was just kind of dreading it, to be honest with you.

“The most important thing was for a Team Penske car to win the championship, and that’s the way we devised our strategy. You hope it works out in your favor, but ultimately what’s important is the team winning the championship, and that was our plan.”

Driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet, Newgarden presented team-owner Roger Penske his 16th series championship and fourth Astor Challenge Cup trophy in the last six years.

“Josef, a great champion. You can see it in his eyes,” Penske said. “You could see it the first time he won with us, and with Will (Power) and Simon, who just had an outstanding season, when you think about three wins and certainly the Indy 500 is the crown jewel that all of us want to have every year. But the season was great, the poles and the competition.”

Team owner Roger Penske increased his stash of Indy car championship trophies by one more over the weekend.

In a traditional sporting sense, Newgarden validated the championship he won during his first season with “The Captain” in 2017. Newgarden now has 14 IndyCar Series victories in a career that began with one lap-led in 14 starts for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2012.

“Yeah, I don’t know why, but it feels more special. It really hit me,” said Newgarden, who started fourth in the 24-car field but failed to lead a lap around the 2.238-mile/11-turn permanent road-course. “It just really, really hit me on the in-lap. I don’t know why. I was just so emotional. I didn’t quite get that way in the first one. I don’t know if you don’t have quite the respect for it or what it is. You just have more perspective on how difficult it is to be…

“When you’re in a season, those opportunities come every single week, but to win a championship, it doesn’t come every week. That opportunity seldom is there, and if it is there, you really want to capitalize on it because you never know if you’re going to get that again, and I think you really realize that the more years you do this. I think this one just felt like it was more ours to lose. It was more ours to give away. I thought it was our year to win, and if we didn’t, it was just going to hurt a lot.”

Newgarden’s season was highlighted by a series-high four wins, along with two poles and seven podiums. He led the point standings the entire 17-race season except after the Indianapolis 500 on May 26, won by teammate Pagenaud. Newgarden regained the top spot following his victory in Race 1 on the Streets of Belle Isle in Detroit six days later and held serve.

Open-wheel returned to historic Laguna Seca under INDYCAR sanction for the first time since the Champ Car World Series in 2004. With Herta’s win, 15 of the 23 series races contested on the layout along California’s Monterey Peninsula have been won from pole position. Herta put a hurt on the field by leading 83 of 90 laps en route to his second win of the season. The 19-year-old from Valencia, Calif., scored his first win on March 24 at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, where he became the youngest race-winner in the sport’s history.

Rookie Colton Herta looked like a veteran at Laguna Seca on Sunday.

Herta never was overtaken for the lead on-track in posting an 0.5878-second margin of victory over Power, who led six laps in his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. Five-time series champ Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, finished third as well as fourth in the championship.

“Yeah, it was a perfect race,” said Herta, driver of the No. 88 Honda fielded by Harding Steinbrenner Racing. “Whenever you win an INDYCAR race, it has to be a perfect race. You can’t really make mistakes and get away with it, just because there’s always two or three other guys on that day that can win. For sure there were a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them. We had the pace on them and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win.”

Colton added to the Herta Family legacy at Laguna Seca. His father, Bryan, qualified on-pole at Laguna Seca for the Champ Car events in 1997, 1998 and 1999 en route to winning the races in 1998-99.

Colton’s win was Honda’s eighth in 17 events this season and clinched a second consecutive Engine Manufacturer’s championship.

Despite his dominant performance, Herta was unable to secure NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors from Felix Rosenqvist, driver of the No. 10 Honda fielded by CGR. Rosenqvist began the weekend with a 49-point lead over Herta and parlayed a masterful drive from his 14th starting position to a fifth-place finish to secure the honor by five points. Rosenqvist, a 28-year-old native of Sweden, finished sixth in the championship standings while Herta took seventh.  

“We had to start from 14th and that’s how it is,” Rosenqvist said. “At least we made it more exciting with the rookie championship. Colton did an amazing job, his second win this year. I think he’s going to be one to watch next year, so big congrats to him. He did an amazing job this year.”

Newgarden needed a fourth-place finish to secure the title regardless of the performances of the other three contenders _ Rossi, Pagenaud and Dixon. Pagenaud began the race 42 points out of first while Dixon was 85 out. Pagenaud finished fourth in the race and second in the championship, 25 points behind his teammate. Rossi finished sixth in the race to finish third in the championship, 33 back of Newgarden.

“Overall, I thought it was an amazing race,” said Pagenaud, the 35-year-old Frenchman who led one lap Sunday in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevy. “I tried as hard as I could all weekend. You saw me drive with my heart. I won Indianapolis this year. We finished second (overall). That’s the second time we’re second in the championship. We won the championship in ’16. I think the numbers talk for themselves.”

Rossi started third and, like Newgarden, uncharacteristically never led a lap. That unconventional showing by both played into Newgarden’s marching orders from Penske President Tim Cindric.

“We were shadowing Rossi. That’s what I was doing,” Newgarden said. “There was a lot of moments where I think I could have blown by him and I didn’t, and I just really tried to just stay around him all day. In some ways that’s really good because we were right there with him, but then in other ways he could suck us into a bad situation, and there was parts of the race where I thought that was happening.

“I thought, you know, we had set out the routine that this is what I’m going to do and this doesn’t seem like it may be working for us, specifically, but if that wasn’t going to be the case, then the most important thing would have been for Simon to win the championship. I think as a team member you just have to understand that. We work as a team, we work as a group, we try and prepare for all scenarios and, most importantly, win as a team. You hope that’s you and the team that’s going to win, but if it’s not you, it has to be the team.

“Yeah, I had my doubts but I just followed protocol, listened to my guys, and they haven’t steered me wrong all year and they didn’t steer me wrong today.”

Rossi will return to Michael Andretti’s organization in 2020 along with Herta in the re-badged Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport entry under terms of a “multi-year agreement” confirmed Saturday.

HSR team principals Mike Harding, an Indianapolis-based businessman, and George Michael Steinbrenner IV, grandson of former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, will join Andretti as leadership partners of the No. 88 team. The partnership is the byproduct of a technical alliance between Andretti Technologies and HSR, which provided engineering support throughout the 2019 season.

Herta officially will join Andretti’s current lineup of Rossi, 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach in pursuit of Newgarden and the Penske juggernaut.

“You can’t take away from the fact that Josef led (the championship after) all but one race this season,” said Rossi, a 27-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif., and driver of the No. 27 Honda.  “And from a sporting perspective, probably the right guy won. He came into this thing with a pretty big lead and if it had gone away on double points I would have loved it, but ultimately it probably wouldn’t have been the outcome that should have happened. Josef did a great job, Simon did a good job there at the end, and we just were a couple points short.”

Newgarden said Rossi was among a “core group” deserving of the championship. “I think Alex has had a tremendous year,” Newgarden said. “He’s certainly a tremendous competitor, very talented, very skilled at what he does and he has a great organization behind him, too. They’re very difficult to beat every week, and that’s what you want. Hats off to them for running just as strong of a season I would say.

“I think we’ve had the most consistent year. I think I really do believe we’ve put together the best championship run, and I’m glad that found its way to sealing the championship.”

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Results of the 2019 season-ending NTT IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on the 2.238-mile/11-turn WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Colton Herta-(R), Honda, 90, Running

2. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running

3. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 90, Running

4. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running

5. (14) Felix Rosenqvist-(R), Honda, 90, Running

6. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 90, Running

7. (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 90, Running

8. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running

9. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running

10. (9) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running

11. (11) Marcus Ericsson-(R), Honda, 90, Running

12. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running

13. (10) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 90, Running

14. (22) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running

15. (20) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 90, Running

16. (21) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 90, Running

17. (23) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 90, Running

18. (17) Zach Veach, Honda, 90, Running

19. (24) Jack Harvey, Honda, 90, Running

20. (15) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 89, Running

21. (16) Takuma Sato, Honda, 89, Running

22. (13) Conor Daly, Honda, 89, Running

23. (18) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 51, Mechanical

24. (12) Santino Ferrucci-(R), Honda, 48, Contact

Note _ (R) denotes series rookie contender.

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 106.057 mph

Time of Race: 1:53:56.9845

Margin of victory: 0.5878-seconds

Cautions: 1 for 3 laps

Lead changes: 7 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders

Herta, Colton 1 – 17

Power, Will 18

Herta, Colton 19 – 38

Power, Will 39 – 40

Herta, Colton 41 – 63

Pagenaud, Simon 64

Power, Will 65 – 67

Herta, Colton 68 – 90

Final NTT IndyCar Series point standings _1, Joseph Newgarden, Team Penske, 641; 2, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 616; 3,Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 608; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 578; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 550; 6, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 425; 7, Colton Herta, Harding Steinbrenner Racing, 420; 8, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 420; 9,Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 415; 10, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 389.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 24 2019
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