MADISON, Ill – Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon continue to gain on NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden. Alexander Rossi continues to slide. Meanwhile, Newgarden has just been a top five machine. Will Newgarden’s consistency and Rossi’s slide be enough for the Tennessee native to hold off his Andretti Autosport rival?
Will that consistency be enough to stave off an end of season push by Pagenaud and Dixon?
Since 2008, the driver leading the points standings at this point of the year has gone on to win the title six times. In fact, the last three years the points leader with three races remaining in the Indy Car season had won the title including four of the last five years too.
That’s great news for Newgarden who lucked out that despite finishing fifth in last Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 that he actually increased his points lead over Alexander Rossi. Despite that, Newgarden isn’t overly that confident heading into the final three race stretch of the season. Yes, his car feels good this weekend, the same way it felt when he won here in 2017, but he won’t be comfortable until the checkered flag flies on Sept. 22 in Lagun Seca.
“Well, they definitely don’t have to win out, no,” Newgarden said on if he’s comfortable in the position that he’s put his competitors in. “Not necessarily. If I finish 15th and (Alexander) Rossi finishes third, you do that a couple races in a row, we’re pretty much like neck-and-neck going into Laguna. Laguna, you could have a 60-point lead going in there and you still have to have a pretty good day. You can’t walk the thing. Probably have to finish 11th or 10th, which is still hard. It’s not easy to show up and finish in that spot.”
Newgarden, notes that the aspect of double points makes this championship race uneasy for him. It’s a situation that he’s actually not too fond of.
“To me it’s still wide open, mainly because of double points,” Newgarden continued. “I don’t love it because it’s tough that it puts that much emphasis on a season finale. We all know the score going into the season. We know how the game works. I think you got to play to how the championship is laid out. Unless you have a hundred-point lead, you’re not going to be comfy going into the finale.”
To make matters more uneasy, Laguna Seca is a place that the series hasn’t been to since 2004. Most of these drivers weren’t racing then. To put double points on that race, it’s worrisome for these drivers.
“It’s an oddball,” Newgarden said of the season finale this year. “We don’t know what that’s going to bring. We could be terrible there. If we are scrapping to finish 10th, we have a 40, 50-point lead, that’s not enough. It’s funny this points discussion. It is super close, in my opinion, still, amongst everybody.”
Newgarden, said that while he’s confident in his car this weekend, he still can’t points race.
“I hope they’re all three good. They need to be. If we’re just good here, so-so everywhere else, I think it’s going to be tough, especially with double points at Laguna. Can’t just be here.
“We’ve got to be on it for the last three races. 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.”