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Numbers on Newgarden’s side ahead of IndyCar finale

The championship is there for the taking for Josef Newgarden.

The 28-year-old Tennessean has been the benchmark throughout the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, and is one race away from claiming his second title in the last three years.

However, the combination of double points and competing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – a track the series hasn’t raced at since 2004 – could prove to be the biggest challenge yet in Newgarden’s quest to claim another Astor Cup.

While the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet has a series-leading four victories, perhaps the bigger achievement is his outstanding consistency with 12 top fives (along with a career-best 490 laps led) in 16 races. Those results have catapulted him to the top of the championship standings, 41 points ahead of Andretti’s Alexander Rossi, 42 ahead of teammate Simon Pageanud, and 85 ahead of reigning champion Scott Dixon.

Although there are several variables in play for his rivals to win the title, a finish of fourth or better will lock up the championship for Newgarden.

“I think we’re in the favorable position, for sure,” Newgarden said. “With double points, I’ve tried to make everyone aware all the way along that it’s far from being over, that it’s always going to be a difficult race in Laguna with a double-point situation. That’s where we find ourselves. We’re in the better position. We definitely have a little bit of a comfort, but nothing that you can feel too comfortable about.

“We still have to perform really well. Finishing fourth or higher in an IndyCar race, to guarantee the championship, is not really an easy task. I mean, it’s difficult to run in the top five in the IndyCar Series week in and week out.

“To come to kind of a wild card event out at Laguna Seca where we don’t have a lot of knowledge –  we, specifically I, don’t have a lot of knowledge with the track. I think a lot of guys going in that have never raced there; they don’t either. It’s going to create a lot of unknowns. I think it’s still a difficult task for us to make sure we hit everything right and have a solid weekend.”

With the situation as it stands entering the tricky 11-turn,  2.238-mile road course, Newgarden likes the idea of being the leader rather than the one chasing.

“The positive thing is I do feel like we control our own destiny,” Newgarden said. “That for sure is the case, which is why it’s the favorable position. If you’d asked me if I’d rather be 41 points or 41 points down, you’re always going to choose being 41 points up. It’s just a much better place to be.

“But having said that, with the double-point situation it still has to go extremely well because of the way it changes the nature of the finishing positions and the points payouts.

“We’ll just have to see how we get on next week. I have a lot of confidence in Team Penske, as always. You always feel prepared when you come to a new track or a venue you’ve never been at before.

“Certainly I think with Team Chevy, they’ve given us all the confidence in the world. Every race this year we go to we feel we get what we need from them. The communication has been excellent. I feel like we have the right people in our corner. We just need to make sure that we go and execute now.”

Hunter-Reay to celebrate DHL anniversary with special Laguna livery

Andretti Autosport has revealed a special commemorative paint scheme for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda for the NTT IndyCar Series season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The livery celebrates 50 years since the company’s founding by three entrepreneurs in San Francisco in 1969.

“The special 50th anniversary car livery is an exciting way for us to commemorate the international heritage of DHL, and our successful partnership with Andretti,” said Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express Americas. “Our journey has been remarkable, hatched by three American visionaries who started an innovative enterprise and tested new markets around the globe. Today, we can bring 220 countries closer together through the power, and speed, of global trade. The world is changing fast, and we are excited to take the lead in international logistics to usher in the next 50.”

The special livery leads with the historic red and white DHL branding of 50 years ago, then transitioning into the modern-day, iconic yellow branding at the back half of the car.

“DHL has given me a home at Andretti Autosport, and over the years the employees and customers of DHL have become like a family to me,” said Hunter-Reay. “It’s an honor to carry the historic DHL colors and represent the brand as they celebrate such an important milestone. Happy Birthday, DHL – and here’s to another 50 years of logistics success!”

 

Laguna tactics simple for Rossi: “We have to win”

He made a declaration a few months ago and repeated it Wednesday during a media teleconference. “You can’t win this championship with only two wins,” said Alexander Rossi, whose two victories have him 41 points behind four-time winner Josef Newgarden going into the season finale Sept. 22 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. “We have to win the race.”

Sitting third in the NTT IndyCar Series standings, Rossi enters the 17th race of 2019 in similar circumstances to a year ago, when he trailed eventual champ Scott Dixon by 29 points. In that finale, Dixie finished second to clinch his fifth title while Rossi was sixth and uncharacteristically uncompetitive on a road course.

“Throughout that weekend we didn’t have the pace to win,” he recalled. “We’re going into next weekend with a lot of unknowns since most drivers haven’t raced at Laguna before and the test we had in February was fairly inconclusive due to weather. So it’s pretty much a blank slate for everyone and that’s exciting, because it rewards the teams and drivers that come to grips with everything the quickest. It will probably reward them with a championship.”

The 27-year-old Californian, who first fell for auto racing by watching CART at Laguna in the late ’90s, has had a good season in his NAPA Auto Parts Honda with wins at Long Beach and Road America, a trio of runner-up finishes and one third place. But Newgarden owns four wins, a pair of seconds, a third and three fourths in addition to leading the most laps (490) in his Penske Chevy.

Still, Laguna pays double points so 41 isn’t insurmountable.

“I think it’s been a generally good season but the No. 2 car (Newgarden) has had a slightly better season, “ continued the 2016 Indy 500 winner. “I think we’ve made a lot of improvements in some areas where we struggled last year and we’ve had some bad luck in the second half that cost us dearly.

“But we’ve got some semblance of an opportunity, I guess, at Laguna. We’re definitely going to need to have things come our way a little bit. But I’ve got the same mindset I’ve had all year: show up and win. If I can do that I can be pretty content.”

Smitten with the sounds and smells of CART cars when he was aged 3-10, Rossi began his career at the Skip Barber School at Laguna and has logged many laps at the scenic, historic 2.25-mile track that hasn’t hosted IndyCar in 15 years.

“I cut my teeth there,” he continued. “And I have a lot of laps there — although they’re pretty incomparable to what I’ll be driving in two weeks.”

Rossi figures passing will be at a premium and qualifying up front is paramount.

“I’ve got no idea about passing zones — it’s a very low-grip surface, one of those tracks you’ll see cars sliding around a lot and guys working the wheel. It’s pretty tricky,” said the two-time pole winner this season.

“The championship could very well be decided in qualifying. It’s no secret that we’re expecting it to be challenging to pass just because of its history. You’re going to have to be perfect and nail it through all three rounds. The guy that’s on the pole, if he’s one of the guys in the championship fight, it’s going to make his job to win the thing a whole lot easier.”

 

Robin Miller’s Mailbag for September 11, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: Great news regarding the addition of Richmond Raceway; so excited for the return of IndyCar. You indicated in last week’s Mailbag that Dennis Bickmeier “will promote the hell out if it,” which I certainly hope will be the case. However, I hope the Friday/Saturday schedule will model that of Gateway (Pro 2000, Lights and IndyCar). Then there’s something with meat to promote!

I contemplated going to Pocono (again) this year, however, why would I drive four hours to tent camp on the infield of an oval for just IndyCar with no support series? Might be acceptable for some, but not my glass of sweet tea in August.  Mid-Ohio? I’m there every year from Thursday night through Monday morning. Indy? Been going 27 years, and while I’d still make the 11-hour drive without Carb Day in play, it certainly enhances the race weekend experience. Richmond and IndyCar must give serious consideration to keeping the weekend schedule filled with action (no disrespect to Vintage Indy), otherwise, it may be a hard sell getting the hardcore fans to travel more than 90 minutes (on I-95, no less).

I purchased six seats for the Richmond race last night. I was very surprised to see a sizeable majority of the “sweet seats” (Commonwealth and Capital stands, rows 20+, closest to start/finish line) unavailable for purchase. Is this a result of management’s intent to reserve those seats for 2020 season ticket (NASCAR) holders? Did I pull the trigger on lower seats prematurely?

Mark, Woodbridge VA

RM: First off, Richmond wants to make the return all about IndyCar so it’s going to have a Friday night practice session and then have qualifying (and more practice) on Saturday. It’s a little throwback to the old USAC era of one-day shows, and I think support races could be in play down the road, but I know Dennis wants to try this format to see how it’s received.

As for tickets, season-ticket holder renewals were sent out before the IndyCar deal was done and Richmond could not put their tickets up for sale without giving them the opportunity to add the IndyCar race to their season ticket package. Bickmeier has communicated to their season ticket holders that they can add this race during the renewal process, which ends on 11/1. Once they are done with renewals and know which season ticket holders added the IndyCar race, then those seats will be released. Richmond says it will also give early IndyCar purchasers the opportunity to relocate, as that is fair to them based on their early commitment, so it sounds like you can move if you chose. Thanks for supporting IndyCar.

Q: I live 30 miles from Richmond International Raceway and should be happy about the return of the IndyCars. But I am not, because I worry that the show will be a repeat of the races I attended on their earlier visits. The track is too small for cars that fast. Lap times are so quick that you need your head on a swivel, and they run so close to the wall that all the fans see are the air boxes and rear wings as the cars whiz by. Unlike stock cars, IndyCars don’t respond well to side-by-side contact. The Carbon Fiber Manufacturer’s Association was the main beneficiary of the last race I attended at RIR, and I believe more laps were run under yellow than green. I’d much rather drive an extra 150 miles to see Indy cars run at VIR than 30 miles to see them at RIR. Robin, please tell me I am wrong about this.

Greg Glassner, Caroline County, Virginia

RM: You are correct in that Richmond was follow-the-leader the last few races before leaving but featured exciting, two-groove racing when the IRL first went there, and there’s no reason it can’t be a good show if IndyCar gets the downforce right and Firestone gets the right tire. I remember NASCAR fans telling me after one of the early races it was the best thing they’d ever seen, so let’s give it a chance.

Q: As one who lives just over the river in Fredericksburg, VA (less than an hours drive from Richmond on I-95), I’m excited! As a reminder to everybody of how many IndyCar races we have in the mid-Atlantic, well.., it was zero before Richmond. I went to the last race at Richmond, which was the one where TK apologized to the fans for the procession. If we can get the tires to work and have multi-groove racing, it will be a blast. Not to mention that the pre-race with USAC Silver crown cars was also really great. (I don’t know if we can get them back for the date). Too bad we can’t pair up with IMSA at VIR. I’d travel to that in an instant, but as I understand it the track is too narrow?

Doug Baggette

RM: As we’ve discussed, the first three races were good with two grooves and the last couple were yawners because either the downforce or tires changed – or both – so it’s up to IndyCar and Firestone to get it right next. Yes, VIR isn’t ready for IndyCar in many ways, but I understand it’s a great little road course.

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