MADISON, Ill – Josef Newgarden holds a fond place in his heart for the World Wide Technology Raceway. See, when the NTT IndyCar Series decided to go back to the St. Louis area race track in 2017, Newgarden was the winner.
Also, Newgarden has been superb on short ovals in his racing career. The Tennessee native has four wins on such tracks including a dominating showing at the only other short oval run in 2019 with leading 245 of 300 laps last month in Iowa. Furthermore, he’s won three out of the last five races on short ovals.
That’s why his Alexander Rossi isn’t too thrilled with how things played out last weekend in Pocono. The Andretti Autosport driver is Newgarden’s main challenger for this year’s championship and Newgarden only finished fifth last Sunday. That was a prime opportunity for Rossi to make up ground. Instead, the gap between first (Newgarden) and second (Rossi) a little more than doubled.
“Although we didn’t win at Pocono, we were able to gain points and extend the gap between us and (Alexander) Rossi in the championship standings,” Newgarden said ahead of Saturday night’s race in Gateway. “Now we focus on Gateway. It’s a track we feel really comfortable at and a place where I’ve had success in the PPG Chevy. Ovals can be tricky, but they’re really fun to race. And over the last couple of years, (World Wide Technology Raceway) has one of the most excited crowds we see all year, so it’s always really cool to be able to go there and put on a show for the fans.”
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 five straight and 13 of the last 18 overall.
Heading into this weekend, Newgarden has five top five finishes in his last six tries on the season. That has him with high hopes for Saturday night’s race although he knows he can’t keep points racing.
“We’ve got to be on it for the last three races,” Newgarden said on Friday from the World Wide Technology Raceway. “Just the way this championship is run, you can’t get comfortable. I think it’s hard to points race, at least completely points race. You got to kind of do your thing still, keep trying to maximize the results every weekend.”
So far this weekend though, he’s been shining. Newgarden, was quick in both practice sessions to go along with qualifying on the pole for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (8 p.m. ET/NBCSN/INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I do feel positive about here,” Newgarden continued. “Last year we had a bit of a bobble with the new aero kit introduction. We didn’t roll off great. It was kind of a fight to get where we were last year. Then you throw in the rain with a lack of time, I just don’t think we hit it perfectly off the box.
“Today the car was stellar right out of the pits. I’m happier with this. A lot more like 2017. I think we’ve got it in a really good window. Now we’ll fine-tune it. See what race running brings this evening. I think that will be another challenge. I think for qualifying we’ll have a good car to go up and challenge everybody.
“Yeah, I feel confident. I think we’ve got something to fight for this weekend with PPG and Chevrolet.”
This has a solid weekend written all over it. He also has a good omen for him too. Since 2008, the driver who’s led the championship standings with three races-to-go has gone on to win the championship six times including each of the last three years and four in the last five. When Newgarden won the championship in 2017, he was the points leader heading to Gateway.
Also, Newgarden has led the championship standings following every race with the exception of one this year.