By David Morgan, Associate Editor
MADISON, Ill. – Josef Newgarden will be leaving World Wide Technology Raceway with an increased point lead, but for the Team Penske driver, a late race incident with rookie Santino Ferrucci only managed to turn what should have been a positive night into a frustrating one.
As pit strategy turned the points race on its head and looked to give Newgarden a sizeable points advantage over then second place championship contender Alexander Rossi with two races remaining on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, the 28-year old Tennessean seemed to be in the catbird seat with the laps winding down in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
Running inside the top-five while Rossi was stuck back in 14th place, Newgarden just had to maintain to the finish, but then came the final turn and the incident with Ferrucci.
Contact between the two sent Newgarden into the grass inside Turn 4, causing his No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet to spin down the frontstretch. Luckily, he was able to gather it back up and crossed the line in seventh, but the damage had been done.
“It’s important to know that he’s a rookie,” an incensed Newgarden said after talking to Ferrucci and reviewing footage of the incident. “What he did, was, in my opinion, dangerous. He came over to talk to me and said he was loose. That’s why he was down there, but I’ve been in the exact same position tonight. I know what it’s like to get up in the marbles. He got up there a couple of times.
“He came directly back down in the racing line to try and block at the end, which there was no reason to. I gave him the position twice because I was suffering with vibrations all night and my car was getting quite difficult to drive there at the end of that stint, so I let him go two times during the night.
“He’s got to learn this is big time auto racing. If you do a move like that on an oval, particularly a high-speed oval, you will cause a very serious wreck. He’s just got to know that. I really drilled it to him that you cannot come directly to the racing line. That was his instinct to come right back to the racing line.
“You know, he’s a racer. You’re going to have instincts like that, but you cannot do that in oval racing. It’s absolutely not okay. It’s a lesson. I hope he learns that and I hope he gets that in his head.”
Despite the frustrating end to the evening, Newgarden holds a 38-point lead over teammate Simon Pagenaud, with Rossi falling 46 points back heading to next weekend’s penultimate race of the season at Portland.
Even with a slight gain in points, Newgarden isn’t ready to celebrate just yet and knows there is still a tough road ahead with Pagenaud and Rossi ready to pounce if he runs into issues in either of the next two races.
“I don’t think we can feel too confident or secure where we’re at,” he said. “I really don’t. I think we’re in a good spot, without a doubt. It would be silly to not recognize it’s a good position.
“It’s not something that you can just sit back and rest on. It’s going to be tough the last two rounds. I wish we could have gotten a little bit more here the last three races. For sure Mid-Ohio, you look at that and say it was what it was. If I would have done a better job, that would have helped. Pocono could have been a little better. Here definitely could have been a little better.
“We’ve not had a smooth last three races. We’ve got to clean that up now for the final two. I think we’re in a good position, but we can’t do anything different than what we’ve been doing all year. We have to keep sort of attacking with some caution I think.”
Likewise, his championship rivals are also ready to battle it out down the stretch with the 2017 series champion.
“I think we had the car and we drove it up to P3 on pace,” Rossi said. “It’s just the way the series works and the way the yellows fall sometimes. It can be frustrating. (Josef Newgarden) spins and is unaffected; crashes in Toronto and is unaffected. It’s just the way it goes.
I think the whole (No.) 27 NAPA Andretti Honda team did a really good job overnight, putting together a fast race car. We were able to get from 11th to third and were content running up there and could run the same pace, if not quicker, than Josef. It’s unfortunate the way it goes down, the series is really difficult. But we’ve got two more to go and we’ll just keep our head down and try to win races.”
🎢 What a roller coaster race – we had our best stint at the end passing cars and I know we put on a show for you guys! Inching up on that championship and we’ve got our eyes on the prize 💪🏼 🇺🇸 #IndyCar #bommarito500 pic.twitter.com/UgZlF5XQHH
— Simon Pagenaud (@simonpagenaud) August 25, 2019