Newgarden Believes Championship Battle is ‘Far from over’

(WATKINS GLEN, NY) – The waters are calm again at Team Penske but Josef Newgarden is ready to make waves in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Tennessee Native has led the 2017 championship points battle since his win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in July. That win was the second in a row for the newest member of Team Penske, and the third of his season. He has since racked up another victory, in stunning fashion at the series return to Gateway Motorsports Park last weekend, when he bumped his teammate and the reigning series champ, Simon Pagenaud, on the way to the top of the podium.

That podium was shared with said teammate and the feeling in the air was one between laughing things off, with Pagenaud jokingly taking the top step instead of the third when he walked on stage, and holding onto anger, when he barely gave Newgarden a fist bump as he entered the scene. Things were said post-race while the ordeal was still fresh in the mind of the Frenchman, but he has since stated publicly that he and Newgarden have spoken and to summarize, all is well. Newgarden divulged the same on Friday,

“ I don’t think there’s any animosity. I see Simon quite often actually. We all live very close to the race shop… We’ve already seen each other, already spoken afterwards.

I know it seems like a show sometimes, but we actually do work really well together in this team. That comes from the top down, from the leadership. So we’re good, yeah, absolutely.

He’s a real professional racecar driver. So he’s easy to work with, easy to get along with. I don’t think there’s any problems with us as far as going forward. We’re going to work together like we always have.”

Newgarden has remained composed and is wise to remember that nothing worth having ever comes easy. Pagenaud dealt with his own drama on his way to his first championship last season – with lines in Long Beach and of course that phenomenal battle between him and Rahal at Barber where he actually did some off-roading on his way to victory.

The Team Penske crew is not adverse to obstacles, but the skill-level possessed by all four of them is the reason that those high-risk maneuvers yield high-level rewards more often than not. Ability to tame the beast that is the DW-12, is key, and it’s what has kept them in the Top 5 of the points standings up until now, the second to last race weekend of 2017. How will those points look after the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen? It’s anyone’s guess but the qualifying results this afternoon will likely give us a better idea.

Looking back at the seven Indy car contests held at Watkins Glen, dating back to 2005, no car has ever won from further back than P4, so while there are good passing zones – Turns 5 and 6, from T7 to T8, and between Turns 11 and 1 – the likelihood of victory is much higher with a qualifying position within the first two rows. Looking at the 2017 starting grids, those first 4 spots have been taken up by no less than 1 Team Penske driver, and in certain instances like last week, all 4 of them.

Dixon Back in Comfort Zone at Watkins Glen
Rahal Leads an All-Honda Top 5 for IndyCar Practice at The Glen

The Friday practices yielded somewhat unexpected results for Team Penske, spanning positions P9-P16 in the morning and P2-P10 in the afternoon. Practice is not always an indication of fastest or best handling cars, as it’s impossible to know exactly what each team is working on during those sessions. In the words of Newgarden, “ I think there’s more than what the timesheet showed… ” His guess, when between sessions, was that the use of multiple sets of tires from of a majority in the Top 10 morning practice had a lot to do with the speeds they were posting.

Testing out multiple sets of tires might play into qualifying results later today however, so it will be interesting to see how each team uses their data from practices to their advantage.

The biggest story at this time of the year is always the championship. Newgarden is 31 points ahead of Scott Dixon right now, who sits second in the standings. When asked, the driver of the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevy brushed off the idea that he already has this championship in the bag,  

“Thinking anything can happen. It’s not a very big lead, in my opinion. 31 points is not much when you look at the current format. Sonoma, with double points, can make it swing any way really. There’s a lot of people in the fight. One mistake, one misfortune with reliability, it’s pretty much wide open, in my opinion.

It’s the same thing here. The lead can slip away pretty easily. Scott is very capable of taking the lead out of this race. Something happens with our car. So I don’t think we’re in a dominant position. I think we’re in a good position. I think you’d want 31 points in the lead whenever you can take it. It’s certainly far from over, in my opinion. There’s a long way to go.”

We are in for a show today and tomorrow, particularly with the odd weather we’ve been having in upstate New York. The ambient temps ranged from mid-40’s to mid-60’s yesterday, with the track having a huge span from mid-50’s to 99 degrees during one point of the afternoon IndyCar practice. No matter the forecast, this track is always pushing drivers to their limit,

“It’s always stressful,” admitted Newgarden, “I was worn out after 15 laps this morning. It’s so physical here. I mean, it’s just relentlessly high commitment around this track. The cooler temperatures don’t really make that better or different. Same thing on the equipment. They’re still pushed very hard regardless of the temp.”

It will be a little warmer tonight but you’ll still need those jackets or hoodies! Qualifying for the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen will be livestreamed by the Verizon IndyCar Series – go here to find all of those methods of live coverage! NBCSN will air the segment on tape delay, as well as interviews and commentary from the track, at 7:00 p.m. tonight.  

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Photo credit: Chris Owens, IndyCar