MADISON, Ill — Josef Newgarden wasn’t happy with how Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 went. He had a top five car, was running fifth heading to the second pit sequence, but after he pit, a caution came out for light rain. It pinned him a lap down and cost him any shot of getting back up to where he deserved to be. He’d finish 12th as a result.
On Sunday, Newgarden rolled off second in his No. 1 Chevrolet. The defending series champion was going to ensure that this didn’t happen again. They were conservative on their pit sequences and it paid off.
He went from second to fourth on the first sequence but on the final sequence, he went from third to first.
Newgarden and Pato O’Ward pit on the same lap. They had a drag race off pit road and he won it. Meanwhile, race leader Will Power was slowed up on track for his stop and that was just enough for Newgarden and O’Ward to cycle by.
Newgarden, took over the lead on Lap 159 and never looked back in leading the final 42 laps en route to his 16th career NTT IndyCar Series victory. He’s also the first repeat winner at World Wide Technology Raceway as we had 11 straight races with a different winner on the 1.25-mile St. Louis area race track.
Newgarden, won this race in 2017. He finished seventh in 2018 and again in 2019, but he led 50 laps in last year’s race but another caution ruined his chances of winning a year ago.
Now, he didn’t allow it to happen again.
Pato O’Ward had a stellar weekend in finishing third on Saturday and runner-up on Sunday in his No. 5 Chevrolet. He just lost this race on pit road again when they did nothing wrong.
Power was third in his No. 12 Chevrolet for his second top 10 in five Gateway tries. He just lost the race on that final pit sequence.
Rookie Rinus VeeKay was the star of the show in coming from 18th to finish fourth while Saturday’s race winner Scott Dixon rounded out the top five.
Pit Stops Key
Passing was difficult on the 1.25-mile St. Louis area race track. That’s why being not only good in the pits, but having good strategy as well was key this weekend. We saw it on both days. On Saturday, Will Power led the first 62 laps but Pato O’Ward leap frogged him by pitting just earlier than Power did on the first sequence.
We saw on the second stint that a caution flew for light rain right in the middle of the sequence. That cost Jack Harvey and both Penske’s both Power and Josef Newgarden top 10 finishes.
Then, on the final stint, Dixon pit with O’Ward but beat him out of pit lane. Takuma Sato then ran the stint into his final pit stop long and was rewarded with a second place result.
Same thing happened on Sunday.
Sato, started on the pole and tried to run the first stint long, just as he did the final one on Saturday. It cost him. He went from first to eighth. He did the same on the second sequence and got back up to sixth.
O’Ward went from fourth to first in jumping both Power and Newgarden again.
The second sequence saw Colton Herta run his stint longer and would come out of the pits in fifth. He did the same on the final stint and came out fourth.
Speaking of that final stint, Will Power caught traffic at the wrong time while Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden were already on pit lane. They had clean air as Newgarden won a drag race off pit road with O’Ward and with Power having a slower in/out lap time, Newgarden went from third to first and Power from first to third.
This was the main takeaway from this weekend.
Strong Weekend For VeeKay
Rinus VeeKay had a relatively quiet rookie season heading into this month. He crashed early in practice at Texas in what was his first career NTT IndyCar Series start. 36 laps into the race, he crashed again.
That made team owner Ed Carpenter pretty upset with his young driver. He said he didn’t really follow his advice and was pushing too hard. With a month off to think about it, VeeKay showed his talents. He finished fifth in the Indy GP on July 4.
In Road America, he was 13th and 14th respectively. At Iowa, he had a top five car but had bad luck in getting run over on a restart by Colton Herta on Lap 156. So, with a rebuilt car overnight, he was conservative and came home 17th a night later.
Then came August.
VeeKay wowed us all with being quick all month long in Indianapolis. He became the fastest teenager ever on the famed speedway with qualifying fourth for last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, a rookie mistake in the pits cost him a top 10. He’d hit a pit crew member and get penalized early as a result. He never rebounded and finished 20th.
In Gateway, he excelled on both days. No one passed more Dallara’s than the Dutch rookie. He passed 13 cars on Saturday and 16 more on Sunday, 11 of which in the first stint alone. So, for a track to where drivers all said would be tough to pass on, VeeKay shined. He passed 29 cars in two days of action.
On Saturday, VeeKay started 14th. He would finish sixth. On Sunday, he came from 18th to a career best fourth.
“Stellar race! We were on our way to the podium, I think, but that yellow kind of screwed me,” said the rookie driver on Saturday. “I kept my chin up and had a great car to make passes with. The No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet was great in the second lane when there were no marbles.
“I’ve learned luck really isn’t our thing, but we did the best we could with the circumstances. It did get a little sketchy on the last run; I almost lost it a few times. It was 200 laps of experience today and some good points. I’m very happy and I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
He was aggressive again and it paid off on Sunday’s finale.
Herta Nabs Another Top 10
Colton Herta is edging so close to a podium. He has two in his young Indy Car career. Both were wins in his rookie season a year ago. But, he only had three top five finishes all of last season as well. This year, he’s almost doubled that in half the starts.
In 18 races in 2019, Herta has three top five’s and eight top 10’s. Now that we’re through nine races in 2020, the 20 year old just scored his fourth top five finish and seventh top 10 in the doubleheader weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Herta, was fourth on Saturday and was up to fourth on Sunday before battling with Rinus VeeKay for the spot and getting out of the groove in Turn 3. He lost a couple of spots by virtue of that and would finish sixth in the end.
The young driver got track position by running his first couple of stints long. He went from ninth to the lead on his second stint on Lap 109. He pit four laps later and was up to fifth. He did it again on his final pit sequence and came out fourth.
Then, VeeKay’s move to battle him for fourth place cost him a top five.
Still, Herta has a top 10 finish in all but two starts this year in his No. 88 Honda and clearly the top Andretti Autosport driver this season. He’s fifth in points and the only AA driver even in the top 10 as we only have three race weekends left.
Nice Penske Rebound
The Team Penske group was reeling on Saturday. They had a great chance but saw it all falter with a first lap crash from Simon Pagenaud and an untimely caution during the middle of the second pit sequence ruin Will Power and Josef Newgarden’s days. Both were 2-4 at the time but finished 12th and 17th respectively.
On Sunday, Newgarden and Power started 2-3. They’d take two of the three podium spots for a vastly better day on Sunday compared to Saturday.
Bad Luck For Power Continues
Will Power has to wonder what he ever did to piss off the racing Gods. For another race, bad luck kept the Aussie out of victory lane. Power, was leading on the second to last stint. All he needed was an uneventful final pit stop and the win was his.
He had one too. Unfortunately, he had a slower in/out lap due to lapped traffic compared to Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward. Heading to that stint, Power was first and Newgarden third. Leaving it, Newgarden was first and Power third.
It’s all due to factors beyond Power’s control.
Same thing on Saturday too. He was second on the second pit sequence but a caution for a light rain storm just after took him out of contention. He’d finish 17th as a result. The exact same thing happened on July 4 at Indy. He started on the pole there too and dominated but a caution came at the midway point during the middle of a pit sequence.
Then, in Road America, they got the gearing wrong and he had nothing for Scott Dixon in the end.
At Iowa, a tire wasn’t tightened and instead of a top two, he’d crash.
I can go on and on. While Power was surely happy for a podium on Sunday, the frustration continues to boil for him to figure out who to change his luck around.
Last 3 Races Could Have Cost Pagenaud The Championship
Simon Pagenaud had two top three finishes in the first two races of the season. After a rough weekend in Road America, he came back at Iowa to win Race 1 and finish fourth in Race 2. Four top fours in six tries. Unfortunately, the Month of August could have cost him a championship.
He entered the month second in the standings, 54 points out of Scott Dixon for the lead. He leaves 179 points out in sixth. He lost 125 points in seven days.
It all started with a 25th place qualifying effort for the Indy 500. He never could get track position despite a quick car and would finish 22nd. Then, in Gateway, he finished 19th and 16th respectively.
He was involved in a first lap crash on Saturday in an incident not of his doing. On Sunday, he was bum rushed on the first lap and had to get off the throttle in Turn 2. He lost several spots and never was able to make up for it.
Now, with being as far back as he is with only three race weekend’s left, August could have lost the championship for Pagenaud.
Pato O’Ward Will Be A Race Winner Soon
Pato O’Ward showed us this weekend in Gateway that he’s going to have some race wins coming soon. While he said on Saturday that he’s somewhat surprised to be third in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings past the halfway mark, the pace shows that a win is coming soon.
O’Ward, was named Rookie of the Year for the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday. He finished sixth seven days ago. One full week later, O’Ward shined even further.
He qualified second and fourth respectively for the doubleheader weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. He led well 130 laps in the two days and finished on the podium in each race.
But, if not for pit road, O’Ward likely could have swept the weekend too.
The Arrow McLaren SP driver pit from second on his first stop on Saturday and leap frogged Will Power for the lead. He would stay out front for the next 94 laps before pitting on the final sequence with Scott Dixon. Despite being flawless on pit lane, Dixon’s crew was just a little bit better as Dixon beat him off pit road on the final stop.
Takuma Sato came out of no where to get to third after the final sequence then passed O’Ward on the outside of Turn 1 in the closing laps for second. O’Ward was puzzled on how he could finish third.
A similar race happened on Sunday. He started fourth but with Takuma Sato running the first stint too long and falling from first to eighth, O’Ward was able to undercut both Penske’s and found the lead again on Lap 59. He’d stay there until pitting for a second time on Lap 97. This time, Power got him back.
He’d never be able to improve out of second.
Power, had a slower final sequence but it was Josef Newgarden who won a drag race off pit road against O’Ward on the final stop 24 hours later instead of Dixon.
Still, this shows the wins are coming soon for him. The kid is a star.
Changing Of The Guard Soon?
The elder statesmen of the sport are still winning. Through nine races, six of them have been won by drivers 35 or older. In fact, five of the nine were won by drivers in their 40’s including a 1-2 finish for Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato on Saturday and in reverse order last Sunday for the Indy 500.
But, I sense a changing of the guard is coming soon.
Four of the top six finishers on Saturday were 29 or younger including three of them 21 or younger. Six of the top 10 drivers on Saturday were 28 or younger too. On Sunday, 29 year old Josef Newgarden won. Three of the top four finishers were 29, 21 and 19 years old. Four of the top six were 29 or younger with three 21 or younger.
With Felix Rosenqvist and Josef Newgarden both winning this year already too and both being 28 and 29 respectively, the future is bright.
You have 21 year old Pato O’Ward leading laps over the two days and finishing third and second respectively.
20 year old Colton Herta finished fourth and sixth respectively in Gateway.
19 year old Rinus VeeKay was sixth and fourth respectively himself.
With Rosenqvist and Newgarden still running on top of their games and 28 year old Alexander Rossi still very much at the start of his prime, you get a bright future for the series which was on stage in Gateway.
Good Points Weekend For Dixon
We’re down to five races left in the 2020 season. Josef Newgarden’s win on Sunday put him as the only driver that’s less than 100 points behind Scott Dixon for the points lead. Newgarden, trails Dixon by 96 points heading to the month of September.
Dixon, won Saturday’s race and was a quiet fifth on Sunday. That come after a runner-up in last weekend’s Indy 500 which paid double points. He went from +54 heading into the month to +96 leaving it.
Dixon, has five top two finishes and eight top five finishes in nine starts this year. He’s virtually unstoppable.
We have two races at Mid-Ohio then two more on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course coming up next. Dixon, has won six times in his career at Mid-Ohio including last year’s race. He just won the July 4 race on the 2.439-mile IMS road course earlier this season and has four straight top two finishes in that race.
So, for everyone else, how can you make up over 100 points in that span?
Pato O’Ward is 119 points out in third. Takuma Sato is 142 points back in fourth. Colton Herta is 166 points out while Simon Pagenaud lost over 125 points in the month and 179 points back in sixth.
This was a great points month for Dixon.
Only the best win at Gateway. Names like Paul Tracy (1997), Alex Zanardi (1998), Michael Andretti (1999), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Al Unser Jr. (2001), Gil de Ferran (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Josef Newgarden (2017), Will Power (2018) and Takuma Sato (2019) all won on the 1.25-mile oval heading into this weekend. That’s why it’s not shocking that Dixon won on Saturday and Newgarden on Sunday.