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Newgarden Bubbles Over After Iowa Victory

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 22 2021

Josef Newgarden was wining after winning in Iowa on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward reshuffled the NTT IndyCar Series point standings Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway, where the winner of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 had the last word on how to properly punctuate a Victory Lane celebration.

“I hate when we have these dinky, little champagne bottles. This is awesome,” said Team Penske’s Newgarden, accompanied during his post-race presser by a bottle of bubbly worthy of his second victory of 2021. “Everywhere we should have big bottles like this. I know the boss (series/team-owner Roger Penske), so I’ll put in a good word.

“I mean, in all seriousness, it just looks more professional. When you hand someone a foot bottle, half this size, it just looks funny. When you look at a professional championship, we got a big champagne bottle that doesn’t run out in like three seconds, it just looks better, in my opinion.

I think whoever has done a great job and gotten up on the podium should have a nice, big champagne bottle that sprays for a little while. You can hand it to the team and everyone can enjoy it. It’s not that hard to do. It’s just a small request. I think it goes a long way to the appearance of the show.”

Newgarden addressed that detail after finishing 0.5397-seconds in front of O’Ward, who exited Madison, Ill., as the new championship leader by 10 points over Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing. O’Ward, who began the race 21 points behind the Spaniard, benefitted from Palou’s 20th-place result after being eliminated in a three-car accident early in the 260-lapper around the 1.25-mile oval. 

A two-time series champion, Newgarden advanced from fourth to third _ 22 points behind O’Ward _ after his third career victory at the facility outside St. Louis, and his 20th career win. Newgarden averaged 135.245 mph, leading 138 of 260 laps in the fourth and final oval race of the season.

“I’ve always liked short ovals. I think it’s some of the most fun racing out there,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet. “It’s fun to drive these type of cars on these type of tracks.

“I couldn’t ask for much more. Everyone did a great job. I’m thrilled. We’ve got to keep going. We know this is going to be a climb, but this goes a long way tonight. Any win is important for the year. Wish we had a couple more to this point and were in a different position, but we’ve always got to fight with where we’re at and what we’ve got in our hands.”

Three races remain in the season _ all on road and/or street-courses on consecutive weekends in September and all on the West Coast. Next up is the Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, Sept. 12, at Portland (Oregon) International Raceway. That will be followed by a visit to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Sept. 19, and the Streets of Long Beach, Calif. _ America’s version of Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix _ on Sept. 26.

O’Ward used “smart aggression” to avoid the incidents that triggered six caution periods, including five during the first 65 laps. The native of Mexico scored his eighth top-five finish in 13 races this year.

“It was a very solid points day for us,” said O’Ward, driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. “I think we maximized what we could have gotten out of our car and our race.

“In a perfect world, it’s not ideal that Josef beat us. But, man, the guy had everything to win it. He had so much pace. I honestly didn’t have anything to challenge him. The only way I could have maybe challenged him was if we got stuck behind lapped cars. But they were all very respectful, which is completely fine.”

NTT P1 Award winner Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet, and Scott McLaughlin gave Team Penske three of the top four finishing positions by placing fourth in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevy.

“Yeah, actually I was really happy to finish third,” said Power, the 2014 series champion who notched the 85th podium of his career. “Definitely didn’t have the car to challenge for the win. Yeah, struggled a little bit to get the car in a (fuel) window. Just did a really clean race, clean pit stops, no mistakes. Yeah, stoked to be third.”

Power began his day by claiming his 63rd series pole, moving the Australian to within four of Mario Andretti’s record 67.

Four-time INDYCAR champion Sebastien Bourdais finished fifth, tying a season best, in the No. 14 ROKiT/A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Fellow-Frenchman and Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean finished 14th in his oval racing debut in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, completing 259 of 260 laps in the car fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with RWR.

Newgarden took the lead for good under caution on Lap 203 when Bourdais, running a different fuel strategy from other lead cars, entered the pits for his final stop. Newgarden maintained a gap anywhere from seven-tenths to one second over O’Ward after the restart on Lap 210. O’Ward closed to within a half-second in the final five laps but ran out of time to challenge for the victory.

“Yeah, I tried to catch him. I could get within I think 3 or 4/10ths,” O’Ward said of Newgarden. “That’s as close as I could. If not, I was risking too much of getting some takeoff understeering into the marbles. Like I said, I needed him to have his wings messed-up with a car in front for me to be able to get more of a run. When one car has clean air and the one behind doesn’t, the pace is very similar, it’s pretty much impossible to get by them.

Whenever it’s so competitive like this series in INDYCAR, just a lot can shift in one race, as we saw today. You just always try to maximize every session you’re in, whether it’s practice, qualifying, race. Obviously, the race counts way more than others. Yeah, I mean, you kind of just have to weigh it out and understand who you’re racing against.”

The championship complexion changed dramatically on Lap 65 during a restart, when six-time/reigning series champ Scott Dixon of CGR, Palou and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing were involved in a crash in Turn 1.

VeeKay’s No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet hit the rear of Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda at the apex of Turn 1 in a thicket of traffic during the restart, sending both cars into a spin into the SAFER Barrier. VeeKay’s car collected Palou’s en route to the wall, eliminating Palou in 20th and VeeKay in 21st.

Palou had climbed to 10th place after starting 21st due to a nine-spot grid position penalty issued for an unapproved engine change after the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix last Saturday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course.

“I thought I was on the outside, and suddenly I got hit,” said Palou, driver of the No. 10 The American Legion Honda. “I had plenty of room with Scott, and Scott had plenty of room with the guy in front and we just got hit. There was no space there. I don’t know where he (VeeKay) wanted to go.

“It was hard to get up to the top-10. We just wanted to have a clean race, we just wanted to get some points and I thought we had a good race car. Nothing we could do today. It’s just a shame it played-out like that.”

VeeKay issued an explanation and an apology to the Ganassi teammates. “I had a really good restart on the inside of Alex and behind Scott,” said VeeKay, a native of Holland. “I get into Turn 1, and I was really focusing on Scott, just to stay behind him, and it just kind of stacked-up. I tried to slow down but we’re in oval spec and I think just before I hit Scott, I’m even locking-up the fronts. Unfortunately, everybody knows how it happened. All night, people have been checking-up, which for everyone is pretty annoying.”

Dixon’s crew repaired his car and the New Zealander returned to the race in a bid to gain points. But Dixon dropped out late in 19th place, 160 laps down. He fell to fourth in the standings, 43 points behind O’Ward. It was the first time Dixon failed to finish a race since this event in August 2019, ending a streak of 28 consecutive races running at the finish.

Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson finished ninth in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to stay fifth in the standings and keep his championship hopes flickering, 60 points behind leader O’Ward.

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport’s problem-plagued season continued. Front-row starter Colton Herta entered the pits in the lead on Lap 186, but the driveshaft broke in his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda as he exited the pits, ending his night. Herta was credited with 18th place after leading 101 laps, second only to Newgarden.

Andretti’s Alexander Rossi was running in the top five for part of the race and appeared to be a threat to Newgarden when he hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 on his out-lap after his final pit stop on Lap 201. Rossi placed 17th in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda.

Newgarden said a sweep of the final three races certainly would secure his third championship.

“That’s the good news,” said Newgarden, who is in his fifth season with Team Penske. “As far as our approach, I don’t know that we’ve ever really changed our style or procedure. We typically show up every weekend and try to maximize whatever our potential is. We felt like we had a winning car today and we tried to win the race.

“I think the name of the game for us is doing that in Portland, Laguna and Long Beach. When you go into the weekend, I think you’re just trying to maximize whatever your result is. It’s really the best way to approach it.”

Results Saturday night of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    2. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    3. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    4. (11) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    5. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    6. (16) Takuma Sato, Honda, 260, Running
    7. (13) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 260, Running
    8. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    9. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 260, Running
    10. (15) Jack Harvey, Honda, 260, Running
    11. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    12. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    13. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 260, Running
    14. (14) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 259, Running
    15. (19) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 243, Running
    16. (10) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 211, Mechanical
    17. (7) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Contact
    18. (2) Colton Herta, Honda, 185, Mechanical
    19. (8) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Contact
    20. (21) Alex Palou, Honda, 64, Contact
    21. (23) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 64, Contact
    22. (22) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 54, Contact
    23. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 4, Contact
    24. (12) Ed Jones, Honda, 2, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 135.245 mph
Time of Race: 2:24:10.9404
Margin of victory: 0.5397-seconds
Cautions: 6 for 49
Lead changes: 11 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders

Power, Will 1
Herta, Colton 2 – 57
Bourdais, Sebastien 58 – 67
Newgarden, Josef 68 – 132
Pagenaud, Simon 133
Bourdais, Sebastien 134 – 137
Newgarden, Josef 138
Herta, Colton 139 – 183
Newgarden, Josef 184 – 197
O’Ward, Pato 198
Bourdais, Sebastien 199 – 202
Newgarden, Josef 203 – 260

Point standings (top-10): 1, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 435; 2, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 425; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 413; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 392; 5, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 375; 6, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 324; 7, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 320; 8, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 319; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 315; 10, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 279.

UPDATED 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Will Power, Team Penske)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based sports journalist specializing in motorsports since 1997. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 22 2021
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