By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
July is the busiest month for the NTT IndyCar Series with five races being at four different tracks, beginning this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
No question the separation of contenders and pretenders is set to unravel as the top-seven drivers are separated by 75 points.
The championship trail is still at stake, but Josef Newgarden currently has a leg up over the rest of the competition. More so that he enters Mid-Ohio as the defending race winner, but also the most recent series winner.
After leading 26 laps at Road America, Newgarden scored his third win of the season, remaining as the only repeat winner this season.
Additionally, he completed the million-dollar PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge as his victories have occurred on an oval (Texas), street (Long Beach) and road course (Road America).
No question, Newgarden is at a different zip code, but there’s a catch. Newgarden currently sits third in points, behind his teammate Will Power and Indy 500 champ Marcus Ericsson.
Since 2006, the INDYCAR title have been decided in the finale, requiring consistency going forward.
“It’s been a little bit too up and down for us. Kind of feast or famine. I think we genuinely had the potential for four or five wins up to this point. So we’ve done three of the potential five, let’s say. The other ones that we weren’t winning, we were finishing too far back,” Newgarden explained.
“We’ve got to up our consistency. It’s a little abnormal for us. I feel like we’re a fairly consistent group. So I’m not going to lose sleep on why that was happening. Sometimes you get in these little micro trends where we didn’t have the consistency we needed.
“Number one, we need to clean that up. We need to win a couple more races before the year is out because of the way the first part of the season went. We definitely have wins on the board. But definitely more than wins, consistency is going to rule the day this year, for sure.”
With nine rounds remaining, Ericsson leads Power by 27 points. Despite being in a strong position of going for his first Astor Cup, he noted the second half will be excruciating.
“It’s going to be tough all the way. It’s so competitive in the series at the moment. Any given weekend can be a new winner. It’s hard to be even in the top 10 if you don’t get everything right,” said Ericsson at Road America.
“I think it’s going to be a tough season, a long season. We put ourselves in a really good position now, leading. So we just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. The last 12 months we were the top scorer in the championship. I think that says something about where we’ve been performing since Detroit actually last year, it was actually 12 months ago today.”
Any error will be beyond consequential that’ll set more would-be contenders out in the cold. Those who commit minimal mistakes could be rewarded with a shot at the championship in two month’s time.
By the Numbers
What: Honda Indy 200, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 9 of 17
Where: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – Lexington, Ohio (Opened: 1962; First INDYCAR Race: 1980)
When: Sunday, July 3, 2022
TV/Radio: NBC 12:30 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) Noon ET
Track Size: 2.258-mile road course
Race Length: 80 laps, 180.64 miles
2021 Race Winner: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started first, 75 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (1:03.8700, 127.271 mph – July 30, 2016)
From the Driver’s Seat
Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
“A lot of fond memories. It’s a fantastic track. It’s a little bit of a bullring and one that’s tough.
“It’s gotten even harder over the years with how slippery some of the surfaces can be in different areas. Especially how the weather treats it, which obviously this weekend it looks like the possibility of maybe getting some rain, too, which will spice some things up maybe on qualifying day.
“Yeah, I don’t know, a lot of great memories from that place.”
Last Time in Mid-Ohio
The first two cautions of last year’s 80-lap contest proved to be the few maddening moments of the race. On the opening lap, Turn 5 became the hot spot of misfortunate after Felix Rosenqvist, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe slowed the field down for a brief period.
Once green flag action resumed, it was again short lived when a fourth-place battle between six-time Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon and Will Power went awry. Power ended up spinning in front of the field.
While most avoided the stricken Team Penske Chevrolet, Ed Jones wasn’t as fortunate and crashed into him. It ended both of their afternoons in what turned out to be the only retirees.
From there, the race went caution free as Josef Newgarden set the tone. Although the laps led appeared to showcase domination, it nearly slipped away from him. Second-place Marcus Ericsson cut the gap but unable to get the victory over Newgarden.
“I’d start each stint and feel like I had everything under control. You get to the back end of it and I thought I was starting to fall apart. So, it was really hard to hang on,” said Newgarden. “But I had my wingman Tim (Cindric) coaching me all the way just making sure I knew what was up to date. But I don’t know what to say other than this team has been doing the job. Everyone has been giving me a hard time asking what’s up with us not winning a race.
“But I don’t think these people at Team Penske could have done anything different. We’ve been in the game almost every race and had great performance and obviously, great support from our partner in Team Chevy. So, it’s great to seal a win here finally on the year.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, July 1
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (2:20 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, July 2
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (2:45 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, July 3
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (9:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. – Peacock)
- Indy Lights Race (10:30 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. – Peacock)
- Honda Indy 200 (12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – NBC)