INDIANAPOLIS – Heading into last weekend at Mid-Ohio, Josef Newgarden had plenty of momentum in his No. 2 Chevrolet. He led 245 of 300 laps in a dominating victory last weekend at the Iowa Speedway. He went from four points up in the championship to 29. The championship was back to his to lose. Then, despite having a ho-hum race, he was still sitting in fourth in the running order after just taken the white flag in the Honda Indy 200.
Luckily for him, other than Scott Dixon leading the race, the other two chasing him in the standings were running 2-3 spots behind Newgarden. But, Newgarden being the racer that he is, pushed too hard for a podium.
Newgarden, was pushing way too hard on the final lap and tried to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay for third place in the key hole. They’d make contact which sent Newgarden spinning towards the grass. Unfortunately, he’d stall his car following his spin as he’d go from a gap of 34 points over Rossi on the final lap down to 16 after his spin.
“I’m not really sure what Josef was thinking there doing that,” Hunter-Reay said of the incident. “He tried to go around the outside, and the line through that corner is that you do a diamond and you come back to the apex, so he had to expect I was coming back at some point, and then just shoved his nose in there. I don’t know, with the championship like that, leader, totally baffled me. I’m just glad it didn’t cut down our right rear tire after fighting like that all day.”
Newgarden, agreed with Hunter-Reay saying that he made a huge mistake when trying to attack too much.
“I just forced the issue,” Newgarden said of the incident. “I was trying to get on the podium there. I got into the side of (Ryan Hunter-Reay), looped it around and lost power. It was my fault trying to force the issue. I wish I could’ve kept the engine running. That was the big thing. We had a great car today with PPG on board. Chevy did a wonderful job. I wish we could’ve done more there at the end. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Rossi, would go from sixth to fifth while Newgarden went from fourth to 14th. Instead of gaining five points on Rossi, he lost 13 on the day but 18 on the final lap. It could be a most that costs him the championship in fact.
But, will it?
Scott Dixon made up 38 points as well with his victory. He heads to the final four races of the season trailing Newgarden by 62 points. He’s only 15 points behind Simon Pagenaud for third and 46 points behind Rossi for second.
But, just look at how Dixon has fared the last three weeks. He has a top two finish in each race. He’s finished ahead of Newgarden and Pagenaud in two of the three races and Rossi in all three races.
Sunday was his third top two finish in five natural road course starts as no one has scored as many points on these tracks than Dixon. Two of the final four races are on these types of tracks. Also, we have a short oval on tap too (Gateway). Dixon, finished runner-up on a short oval last weekend.
In Pocono, the site of next race, he finished third last year. He has never finished outside the top 10 at the Tricky Triangle. In Gateway, he finished second in 2017 and third last year. In Portland, he finished fifth last year.
Dixon, is going to put pressure on the three drivers in front of him. They don’t call him the Ice Man for nothing. But, the ovals are what could be his detriment. Here’s why.
Where no one has scored as many points as the Chip Ganassi Racing on natural road courses in 2019, 10 have scored more than him on ovals. On ovals in 2019, Dixon has scored just 82 points. That’s good enough for 11th in the series. Meanwhile, Pagenaud has scored 174 which is best in the series. Newgarden, has scored 171 with Rossi 151. They’re 1-2-3. Dixon, needs to improve on ovals or his title chances may evaporate again.
Dixon’s chances will hinder on Pocono and Gateway. If he can be the Dixon of 2018 on these tracks, then he may be the one to beat. If he struggles on ovals like he has this year, then he may be too far out to make his advantage on natural road courses mean anything over the final two races.
Rossi, just needs to hang with the Penske’s himself. He’s finished runner-up to each of the two Penske’s in the superspeedway races in 2019. Trends say Will Power will win Sunday’s over Rossi race as Penske has won both superspeedway’s in 2019 with two different drivers in Pagenaud at Indy and Newgarden in Texas with Rossi crossing the finish line a close second behind both. But, out of the last 10 races on the season, the top four in the standings have won each. Power, sits fifth. That means Sunday could be a Newgarden vs. Pagenaud battle for the win with Rossi splitting the two in second.
Rossi, led 180 of 200 laps in this race last year but I think a Penske driver wins despite that. Rossi’s last three finishes are third, sixth and fifth respectively. While those are solid results and gives him eight consecutive top eight finishes heading into Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at the Pocono Raceway, he just hasn’t had the speed to contend lately.
He was a distant third in Toronto. He never had a car capable of competing in Iowa. In fact, he fell a lap down in the Iowa 300. In Mid-Ohio, he was on the wrong end of strategy and didn’t have the pace to make up for it. He hasn’t led a lap since June 23.
With he not having the pace and Dixon struggling on ovals in 2019, add that to Penske’s already large strength on ovals and you get a Penske battle for the win at Pocono and again a week later in Gateway.
They’ve won two of the last three races on the Tricky Triangle and three of the last five overall. On superspeedway’s this season, they’re 2-for-2. On superspeedway’s the last couple of years, they’re 5-for-7. In fact, since the start of the 2016 season, Penske has won six of the 11 races contested on superspeedway’s.
Josef Newgarden has finished fourth and first respectively in 2019 on them. Simon Pagenaud has finished first and sixth respectively on them. Will Power has finished fifth and ninth respectively on them.
In fact, in Pocono, Power has three straight top two finishes including two of which being wins. Newgarden, has five top five finishes in six tries with his worst finish being eighth. Pagenaud, has five top eight finishes in six tries himself.
From there, it’s to Gateway where Penske is riding a four race win streak including both since the series’ return in 2017.
Newgarden, has finished first and seventh respectively in Gateway. Pagenaud, has finished third and fourth respectively. Power, has finished 20th and first respectively on the 1.25-mile St. Louis area oval.
On short ovals, Penske has won three of the four under this current aero package with the new car and six of the last seven overall.
Also, on ovals in general, Penske has won four straight and 12 of the last 17 overall. They should win the next two weeks which only helps their case for the season championship too.
Can Rossi and Dixon remain in striking distance heading to Labor Day weekend or will this be a Newgarden vs. Pagenaud battle for the championship.
We know Dixon will be the favorite over the final two races of the year, but the next two races could make him too far out to be a legitimate factor. Rossi, needs to find more speed.