By David Morgan, Associate Editor
MADISON, Ill. – Josef Newgarden enters Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway as the NTT IndyCar Series points leader, but the Team Penske hotshoe isn’t taking anything for granted with three races left in the 2019 season.
“I hope they’re all three good,” Newgarden said after Friday’s first practice session of the weekend. “They need to be. If we’re just good here, so-so everywhere else, I think it’s going to be tough, especially with double points at Laguna. Can’t just be here.
“We’ve got to be on it for the last three races. Just the way this championship is run, you can’t get comfortable. I think it’s hard to points race, at least completely points race. You got to kind of do your thing still, keep trying to maximize the results every weekend.”
With a 35-point advantage over Alexander Rossi, Newgarden has reason to be optimistic heading into the weekend, especially given the success of Team Penske on ovals over the last year. Since Will Power won at Gateway last season, a Team Penske driver has won all four oval races since then.
Simon Pagenaud won the Indianapolis 500, Newgarden conquered Texas and Iowa, and Power won last weekend at Pocono.
In Friday’s first practice session of the weekend, Newgarden timed in fourth with a lap of 24.410 seconds, 184.348 mph. Given their oval prowess, Newgarden noted his team is ready for what the 1.25-mile oval brings and hopes to make a second trip to Victory Lane at Gateway after winning in 2017.
“I do feel positive about here,” the driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet said. “Last year we had a bit of a bobble with the new aero kit introduction. We didn’t roll off great. It was kind of a fight to get where we were last year. Then you throw in the rain with a lack of time, I just don’t think we hit it perfectly off the box.
“Today the car was stellar right out of the pits. I’m happier with this. A lot more like 2017. I think we’ve got it in a really good window. Now we’ll fine-tune it. See what race running brings this evening. I think that will be another challenge. I think for qualifying we’ll have a good car to go up and challenge everybody.
“I feel confident. I think we’ve got something to fight for this weekend with PPG and Chevrolet.”
Newgarden and the remainder of the drivers will set the field with qualifying at 5:15 pm Central Friday night, followed by an hour-long final practice session at 8:15 pm. Saturday night’s 248-lap race is set for a 7:45 pm green flag.