Not so sure anyone was expecting that championship to come so soon.
Newgarden thrust himself into the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead with a decisive victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The 26-year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee who now lives in Davidson, North Carolina led 73 laps in the 90-lap race to score his sixth career Verizon IndyCar Series win.
“It’s not over yet so we’ll see how it plays out,” Newgarden said after winning. “But I think regardless of how it plays out we can’t be disappointed. Three wins is great and we will be happy with that.
“We want more. I want more. So, we’re going to do everything we can to win this championship.”
The Team Penske driver has a seven-point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves after the three-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver finished seventh. Scott Dixon started sixth and finished ninth, falling from the championship lead to eight points behind Newgarden. Two more Team Penske drivers are fourth and sixth including Simon Pagenaud (17 points out of the lead) and 2014 champion Will Power (52 points back).
Graham Rahal finished third and is sixth in points, 58 out of the lead.
Will Power led from pole and finished second.
The key moment for Newgarden came when he made a terrific crossover move in the Turn 4 Esses on Lap 13. Once Newgarden’s Chevrolet was in the lead, he was able to drive to large leads and only gave up the position during his three pit stops.
“I felt like we were a little stronger at the start,” Newgarden said. “Will was good, and we had a decent gap to Takuma. We were holding fairly steady. I think Will was struggling a little more than me, and I just didn’t want to wait behind him. We were either going to pass him on track in a straight-up pass or pass him on the pit cycle. That was our plan. I didn’t want to wait until the pits. I felt like I had an opportunity, so I just tried to time something and pull a move on him.
“He gave me a lot of racing room like a great teammate. I think he knew we were a little bit quicker. He gave me good room, and once we got past him, I thought we were really fast.
“It was a good day. Pretty smooth, for the most part. Still stressful. It’s always stressful, even when the car’s fast. It seemed like the car was working on reds, blacks, didn’t really matter. It just got better throughout the race and as the track gripped up.”
There was just one caution period in the race when the Dale Coyne Racing entry driven by rookie driver Ed Jones came to a stop in Turn 9 on Lap 67. When the race was set to go back to green, the other Dale Coyne Racing driver Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico was second in the restart line but one lap down. He was in between Newgarden and second-place Power.
After taking the green flag, Gutierrez drove to the outside of Newgarden in an attempt to get his lap back but had to lock up the brakes, effectively blocking Power from having any legitimate chance of trying to pass Newgarden for the lead.
“The only real drama was the restart, felt like we were on the wrong tire again, kind of like Road America,” Newgarden said. “Fortunately, we had a bit of a buffer, even with the car in between. Even there, I thought Gutierrez was going to run into us on Turn 4 for a second, but we seemed to skate through.
Newgarden made a crossover move in the Turn 4 Esses to grab the lead on Lap 13
“Once we got the tires cleaned up from all the marbles, it seemed to be pretty good.”
Safely in front, Newgarden drove to the checkered flag 20 laps later and defeated Power by 5.1556 seconds. The top two cars were Chevrolets. Rahal finished third in a Honda followed by last year’s Mid-Ohio Race winner Simon Pagenaud’s Chevrolet and this year’s Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato’s Honda.
Newgarden scored back-to-back wins for the first time in his IndyCar Series career. He also won the Honda Indy Toronto on July 16. The last driver to win back-to-back Verizon IndyCar Series races was Graham Rahal who won at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in June.
His other victory this season was in the April 23 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Power scored his fourth podium finish at Mid-Ohio and fifth podium finish of 2016.
“(The car) was OK,” Power said. “We just had too much push on Reds (Firestone alternate tires). I think we were pretty good on Blacks, but even at the end there, red tires, the front would just not work.
“But solid day. Solid day for points. Obviously, it’s still very mixed up there, but we’ve just got to keep making hay.
“Josef was very good on that pass for the lead. He was very smart. He put his push-to-pass on, they said ‘on the button,’ I put it on, then he said ‘off,’ and he went off, then back on again then ducked to the inside. I was starting to struggle with a bit of push, but he was very strong. He was very, very strong, he was tough to beat today.”
Newgarden scored back-to-back wins for the first time in his IndyCar Series career. He also won the Honda Indy Toronto on July 16.
IndyCar Honda Indy 200 Results
1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
3. (4) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
4. (7) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (3) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
6. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 90, Running
7. (5) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
8. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
9. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 90, Running
10. (11) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 90, Running
11. (8) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
12. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running
13. (13) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 90, Running
14. (21) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 90, Running
15. (18) Max Chilton, Honda, 90, Running
16. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 90, Running
17. (19) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 90, Running
18. (20) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 89, Running
19. (16) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 89, Running
20. (12) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 89, Running
21. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 88, Running
Winners average speed: 114.677 mph
Time of Race: 01:46:19.5989
Margin of victory: 5.1556 seconds
Cautions: 1 fo4 4 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 3 drivers
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 453, Castroneves 446, Dixon 445, Pagenaud 436, Power 401, Rahal 395, Sato 381, Rossi 358, Kanaan 320, Hinchcliffe 316.
IndyCar Honda Indy 200 Results