Newgarden captures pole, extends lead before finale
Josef Newgarden moved a step closer to his first IndyCar title Saturday by leading a Penske parade into the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Four of the five drivers mathematically eligible to win the championship Sunday are from Team Penske. In qualifying, they showed they have the speed to grab the title.
But it’s Newgarden, in his first season driving for Penske, who led the charge. He’s the points leader and three times broke the track record in Saturday’s qualifying session. His final run in his Chevrolet was at 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds and gave Newgarden just the second pole of his career.
The bonus point he earned for the pole gives him a four-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s race.
“This is IndyCar racing, anything can happen. We checked one thing off the box this weekend and we have one big one to check off tomorrow,” Newgarden said. “We’ve got to get through the race, we’ve got to have a good race car — qualifying is one thing, having speed is one thing, but winning the race is a whole other deal.”
Newgarden was ecstatic after the pole-winning run. He’s trying to become only the second U.S.-born driver in 11 years to win the title.
His upgrade to Penske equipment has led to four victories and put him in control of the championship. If he finishes higher than all the other contenders Sunday, he wins the title.
Penske drivers Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves qualified second, third and fourth. Dixon was sixth and struggled through all three qualifying sessions.
The four-time series champion started the weekend three points behind Newgarden and was considered the favorite to win the title because of his ruthless attacking style, steely demeanor and experience. But his Honda lacked the speed of the Chevrolets from Penske.
“The Penske group are fast here, and it’s exactly what we expect, but the race is going to be interesting,” said Dixon, who said he’ll have to rely on strategy to win. “We can definitely make it work.”
Points leader Josef Newgarden captured the pole with a track-record lap of 1 minute,15.5205 seconds. He enters Sunday’s finale with a four-point advantage.