Newgarden leads Penske to top four spots on grid
Josef Newgarden moved a step closer to his first IndyCar title by leading a Penske parade into the IndyCar season finale.
Four of the five drivers still mathematically eligible to win the championship Sunday are from Team Penske. In qualifying, they showed they have the raw speed to grab this 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 Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s season finale. The race is worth double points.
“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,” said Newgarden. “We’ve got to get through the race, we’ve got to have a good racecar — 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 and celebrated with his Penske team. He’s trying to become only the second U.S.-born driver in 11 years to win the championship.
His upgrade to Penske equipment this season 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 just three points behind Newgarden and considered the favorite to win the title because of his ruthless attacking style, steely demeanor and experience. But his Ganassi Honda clearly lacked the speed of the Chevrolet’s 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 thinks he’ll have to rely on strategy on Sunday to win the race.
“We can definitely make it work.”
Penske really likes his chances with four drivers in contention but knows beating Dixon will be a difficult task.
“I think Scott Dixon is one of the very best out here, and I respect him and the team. But Josef’s got a great opportunity, and we’ve got three guys that can win this thing.”
Castroneves is in his 20th, and possibly last, full season in IndyCar. Penske has hinted strongly at moving Castroneves to the sports car team he’s launching next season.
Josef Newgarden, the IndyCar series points leader, will start from the pole position in Sunday’s season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway.