Josef Newgarden Asserts Himself With IndyCar Win At Gateway
Newgarden's late race pass on his teammate for the lead was a line in the sand that he's daring his rivals to cross.
Josef Newgarden is making it known that he wants the IndyCar championship this year. His win at Gateway on Saturday night was his fourth of the season and pads his championship lead just a little bit more. With two races left to go, and one of those a double points race, the championship battle will likely be going down to the final lap and final corner of the year.
IndyCar's return to Gateway was not without its drama. The series last raced here in 2003. While the track was getting positive reviews from the drivers throughout the weekend, it would be a very different beast during the race.
The race hadn't even started before the first yellow flag came out. On the final formation lap, Tony Kanaan spun in turn two, making contact with the wall. Before Kanaan's accident, race officials had been debating waving off the start due to debris on track from fireworks. Once the decision was made to start the race, the field was rushing to get lined up for the start.
Kanaan was going just a hair too fast on cold tires, which touched the painted line at the bottom of the track. The new track surface was proving to be extraordinarily slippery as well. All of those factors put together never end well for a driver on an oval track.
Due to Kanaan's crash, the race started under yellow and behind the safety car. On lap six, the field, led by pole sitter Will Power, got the green flag. That lasted for just a few hundred yards.
Through turns one and two, Newgarden swept around the outside of Power to take the lead. Though well clear of Power, Newgarden's pass took the air off Power's front wing. With tires that were still not up to temperature on the slippery track, Power spun into the wall.
Spinning out at the same time as Power was Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter. Sato hit the wall ahead of Power and was able to get back to the pits. Carpenter hit behind Power. Following contact with the wall, Carpenter's car climbed over the top of Power. Thankfully, both drivers were unhurt. Power was lucky to avoid injury as he almost had the full weight of Carpenter's car sitting on his head.
When the race went green again, there was an obvious trepidation from the drivers. Everyone was well aware of how slick the track was and no one was willing to push too hard. As the race went on and the track rubbered in, the on-track action slowly picked up. Besides Newgarden, championship contenders Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves led for periods of time.
Sebastian Bourdais, who was racing for the first time since his massive accident during Indy 500 qualifying even led a handful of laps. Bourdais started nineteenth and finished tenth which was a more than respectable showing in his first race back.
The move of the race, and maybe the championship came from Newgarden. He was following behind Pagenaud, who was leading, on lap 218 of the 248 lap race. Newgarden dove to the inside in turn one and held his line next to Pagenaud. Newgarden gave Pagenaud a little bump to get by, sending Pagenaud up the track and off the racing line in turn two. Newgarden held the lead to the end of the race.
With two races left in the season, there are seven drivers who still have a mathematical chance of winning the championship, though only four have a realistic chance. Newgarden leads the standings with 547 points. behind him are Scott Dixon (516), Helio Castroneves (505), Simon Pagenaud (504), Will Power (464), Graham Rahal (436), and Alexander Rossi (422). With a maximum 135 points available during the final two races, it will be close until the last lap of the season.
At this point, Power, Rahal, and Rossi have to get pole, win, and lead the most laps just to stay in the hunt. And then they would have to do it again at the season closer in Sonoma. Of those three drivers, Power could pull it off, but it's a big ask.
Newgarden has positioned himself nicely with a decent points lead, but there is no room for error. A win at Watkins Glen for Dixon, Castroneves, or Pagenaud with a bad weekend for Newgarden turns completely changes the complexion of the championship.
If Newgarden ends up winning the championship by only one or two points, his bump-and-run on Pagenaud is where he earned those. Of course, he also put a spectacular move on Power at Mid-Ohio. He has drawn a line in the sand in his bid for the title. Newgarden is done with niceties. It's all or nothing from here to the end.
The gloves are off in the fight for the championship. All will become more clear on September 3 as IndyCar takes to the track at the fabled Watkins Glen road course.