Newgarden leads Friday morning practice at Road America, not yet thinking about Championship

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The 23-car Verizon IndyCar Series field roared back into action today, on the 14-turn road course of Road America. Scott Dixon (No. 9, Ganassi Racing Teams) starts this weekend as the points leader, a position he moved into after his win in Texas 2 weeks ago. Standing on the podium with him at Texas Motor Speedway was Alexander Rossi (No. 27, Andretti Autosport), who trails Dixon by 23 points and sits second in the championship hunt.

The points leader has changed 7 times over 9 events, and toggled between 5 different drivers. Dixon, Will Power (No. 12, Team Penske), Rossi, Josef Newgarden (No. 1, Team Penske), and Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18, Dale Coyne Racing w Vassar-Sullivan) have all led the points race in 2018. It’s likely that we will see that battle continue between the first four drivers mentioned, for the remaining 8 weekends. Dixon wants his fifth championship, Power his second, Rossi his first, and Newgarden… well, it’s his title now and he wants to keep it that way. All four drivers sit in the Top 5 right now.

Josef Newgarden last led going into the Indianapolis 500 but less than stellar results over the month of May (P11 in the Grand Prix of IndyCar Grand Prix and P8 in the Indianapolis 500) for the defending champion played a large part in him dropping from first in points to his current spot of fifth. Now that we’ve passed the midway point of the season, it’s clear that Newgarden has to have his blinders on if he hopes to earn back-to-back titles. Oddly though, he mentioned after the session that he doesn’t really start thinking seriously about the championship until there are 3-4 races remaining in the season. To be totally honest, that surprised me and I wonder if he’s just playing it off. His hashtag all season has been #DefendThe1, so it’s hard to fathom that he’s yet to start thinking about his points standing. 

Semantics aside, the desire to win is never debatable – that’s always on his mind. And starting from pole in this event, can yield those results. Of the current field winners at Road America (there are only 3), both Bourdais and Power have won from the pole. Dixon won last year from a P5 starting position, and after a pass for the lead in Turn 1 around Newgarden, that left most of us gasping for breath. So, while Newgarden might not be thinking about the championship for another 4 races, Dixon is thinking about it now. He’s been strong all season, and I beg you to give me the name of a driver who can match Dixon’s consistent strength in the second half of a season.

2018 ROAD AMERICA PRACTICE 1 RESULTS

Newgarden led this morning’s practice session at Road America with a best lap of 1:43.0477 but even he admitted that the morning session may not be an accurate representation of the field’s abilities this weekend. All that said though, he’s as excited as all of us to be back in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin at this amazing 4.048 permanent road course, 

“Session 2 might give us a better idea, but we might not see the full picture until session 3. I think Wickens will be strong as well as Andretti Autosport, and Dixon.

It’s a great driver’s track. A great IndyCar track. There’s a buzz about it. You feel an energy here that you don’t get at every track. You have to put the car to the limit, it can bite you though. There’s not a lot places to hide here.”  

I don’t know, Josef. I might argue that, given the density of the forests here.
Oh, you meant on track. Right.

Speaking of… IndyCar will be back on track for the second Kohler Grand Prix practice session this afternoon at 3:15pm CT. You can watch or listen live in a multitude of ways, check out your options here. And don’t worry, my terrible jokes that only I find funny will not be on any livestream of any sort. I promise.

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Photo credit: Chris Owens / IndyCar