IndyStar Motorsports Insider Jim Ayello talks Josef Newgarden’s come-from-nowhere win and more from a wild day at Texas Motor Speedway
Jim Ayello, firstname.lastname@example.org
NO LIMITS, Texas – Alexander Rossi is going to be chasing Team Penske cars in his sleep. On Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, and for the third time in four races, the Andretti Autosport star finished a frustrated runner-up to a Penske Indy car.
And for the second time in a week, it was championship leader Josef Newgarden who beat him to the checkered flag. With his NTT IndyCar Series-best third victory of the season, Newgarden put even more distance between himself and Rossi in the standings, growing his points lead to 25 (367-342).
While Newgareden tossed on a cowboy hat and fired off pistols in Victory Lane Saturday night, Rossi lamented yet another close call. Yes, he’s collecting valuable points in the title hunt, and yes he’s still well within reach of his first championship, but he couldn’t help but vent his frustration after tasting victory only to have it snatched away yet again.
“It sucks,” Rossi said in his post-race news conference. “I mean, we’re always there, but we’re always playing the bridesmaid as of late.”
Meanwhile, Newgarden has been enjoying his role of the bride. A brilliant strategy play and some stellar driving put Newgarden in front of Rossi in Dual 1 and Detroit. And on Saturday night, a similar combination allowed him to come from out of nowhere and pick up the first superspeedway victory of his career.
Newgarden credited his team for a speedy final pit stop of Lap 198 and for giving him a car capable of turning some remarkably quick laps for flipping his fortunes late in Saturday’s race.
“This win was down to the team,” Newgarden said. “They keep putting me out front, putting the pressure on me. I guess it’s a good thing. … I knew once we pitted and got back to where we were before the pit stop on the green flag sequence, I knew once we got back there, we had such a fuel advantage on everybody, if we could get to the lead, I could crank out super quick laps and jump everybody. That’s what we did.”
Texas winner and Team Penske star Josef Newgarden carries the IndyCar points lead into the second half of the season.
Jim Ayello, email@example.com
Rossi did everything he could to overtake Newgarden in what was a thrilling final 13 laps. Following a caution period caused by a Colton Herta-Scott Dixon crash, Rossi was relentless in his pursuit of Newgarden. He attacked multiple times, going wheel-to-wheel with the 2017 IndyCar champion, but it was to no avail. A little like what happened a couple weeks ago at Indianapolis with Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden defended the inside lane and dared Rossi to overtake on the outside.
He couldn’t do it.
“We had a good car, could obviously get a good run on him off of (turns) 3 and 4,” Rossi said. “Lane two was really never there for me. We could get halfway around the outside before we would have to bail out.
“Ultimately then it became about trying to beat him for the line. But we took out a lot of the tire life going in lane two there, so we just didn’t have the rear tires there at the end to stay close to him. It sucks. I mean, I didn’t see him up front all day. All of a sudden he appears in P1, so… Obviously they’re doing a good job. He had a fast car once he got in front.”
Fortunately for Rossi, Texas only marks the halfway point of the season. With nine races down there are still eight to go — more than enough time for Rossi to try and avenge all these aggravating near-misses. The same can be said for Newgarden, who has eight more races to try and fend off Rossi and win his second championship.
Thank you! You’re almost signed up for
Keep an eye out for an email to confirm your newsletter registration.
No matter who comes out on top, IndyCar fans are sure-winners as this battle heats up deep into the summer. Rossi, a popular young American driver for a prestige team desperately seeking the championship that eluded him last year vs. Newgarden, a popular young American driver for a prestige team hunting a championship that solidify his superstar status.
That could be the story of the summer. Or…
Guys like Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and perhaps even Takuma Sato could wedge their way back into the title hunt.
Despite a rough Saturday for Sato and Dixon, all three remain within reach of Newgarden and all three are fully capable of turning in some terrific results in a hurry. With five championships, Dixon’s resume speaks for itself. The same goes for Pagenaud, a former IndyCar champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner who emerged frustrated with his finish Saturday but pleased with his prospects heading into the second half of the season.
“We’re showing strength everywhere, on ovals, road courses and street circuits,” said Pagenaud, who finished sixth on Saturday night and is 48 points back of Newgarden. “It’s going to be competitive down the stretch. Rossi is here every race. Josef is very strong. I think we’re right there with them.”
Sato, meanwhile, has never finished higher than eighth in the championship, but has proved this season that Rahal Letterman Lanigan is armed with quick cars capable of accomplishing some extraordinary things. If he can avoid mistakes like the one Saturday in pit lane that cost him his race, he has a chance to battle back into contention and play his part in making IndyCar’s battle for the championship a thrilling fight to finish.
Follow IndyStar Motorsports Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: @jimayello.