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.”

Portland’s Turn 1 miracle goes to Newgarden

The Portland Grand Prix has become IndyCar’s prime source for Divine Intervention.

For the second year in a row, the seemingly impossible was on display as championship leader Josef Newgarden emerged from the Lap 1 melee without a scratch. Where Scott Dixon’s Turn 1 miracle kept his 2018 title chances alive and ultimately helped the Chip Ganassi Racing driver to score his fifth championship, Newgarden’s oh-so-close moments, as most of the cars around him got tangled in Graham Rahal’s bowling ball impression, allowed the Team Penske ace to vault from 13th to fifth at the checkered flag.

With cars colliding in front and on both sides of his No. 2 Chevy, Portland gifted the Tennessean with 2019’s Turn 1 miracle. As a result, he heads to the season finale with a handy 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

“I was just trying to stop,” he said of mayhem playing out as the field entered the tight chicane. “I had nowhere to go because it was right in front of me. And the decision-making process, I couldn’t really go right because Rahal was coming right at that moment. Then once they hit, they were kind of flowing to the left and then I was just kind of stuck right in the middle. So, I just waited for it all to stop and then went around it. I was kind of lucky in a way.”

With a maximum of 104 points available to earn at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on September 22, Newgarden’s happiness over avoiding the Turn 1 dramas were tempered by the efforts required to overcome a poor starting position.

“Yeah, 60 would have been better,” he said. “Well, really 70. Heck, 90. No, it’s honestly not enough with double points. It’s just not. I don’t think we’re very comfortable.”

Just as Portland gave Dixon the good fortune he needed to go on an win the title a year ago, it took it back on Sunday as the New Zealander had the race under control until a dying battery left his No. 9 Honda stalled and out of contention. With the electrical issue compounding a freak radiator problem last weekend, the Kiwi is all but out of the title picture.

“Yeah, maybe we’ve got Scott’s mojo from last year — it was like Scott could do no wrong last year,” Newgarden added. “Nothing ever bad happened to him. This year he’s had a couple of small things hit him here right at the end, the radiator and now the battery deal. I don’t know what it was, but it sounded like that’s what it was. It’s like he’s got the complete opposite of what he had last year.

“That’s IndyCar. Sometimes this cycles around. You’ll get the good years, you’ll get the bad. Hopefully, we continue to have a good year in Laguna and then kind of finish it off because you never know when you’re going to have a bad year again. It’s far from over, but I for sure would rather be in the position we are in instead of second or third.”

One lane or two at Gateway? Wait and see…

While Team Penske’s Will Power was adamant prior to qualifying that a second lane could — and should — open up on Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway for Saturday night’s Bommarito Auto Group 500, he didn’t get a lot of support for his view. “Absolutely not,” declared Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi of prospects for two-lane racing, and while the top two qualifiers were a little more hopeful Power might be right, they weren’t counting on it.

“I don’t know. I mean, last year was obviously very much of a struggle to pass,” noted second-starting Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing. “I think it put a lot of emphasis on qualifying and track position. I don’t think it’s going to be very, very different. I think the package we have makes it very difficult to be flat on your line in (Turns) 3 and 4, and therefore once you get some dirty air, it’s impossible to be flat. So building the run from out of 1, 2, to back around is just hard.

“Last year we saw a lot of differing strategies with some fuel saving and things, which definitely mixed things up and opened some opportunities for passing. So hey, if it’s a very static race, starting second, I think I’ll be all right with that.”

Polesitter Josef Newgarden knows firsthand that making a move at Gateway can require some extra risk-taking, having had to push right to the edge to make a winning pass on Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud here two years ago and earning the Frenchman’s ire in the process. The championship leader acknowledged such a move might be necessary again — and indicated he wouldn’t shy away from it if it is.

“It’s possible. You know, this place could breed it. We’ve seen it. Maybe it will repeat; I don’t know,” he said of 2017’s bump-and-run with Pagenaud. “Hopefully not. Hopefully we’re up the road and nobody has got to worry about that. But this place, because the straightaways are just long enough, I think it invites a little bit more of that late move. You saw last year, too, every move is late. You’re kind of late into Turn 1, and it’s just the style of racing here. So I think everyone kind of knows the drill after a couple runs.

“It’s really going to be kind of down to, is it different than last year as far as lane usage. We were kind of pinned on one lane last year, which hurts the racing, unfortunately. But can we open that up this year, will we get a second lane? That’s what we need to figure out tonight. I will say, though, I think there’s more grip than last year. I think Firestone has brought a bit grippier package. It just feels a little easier to drive.”

Newgarden added that he expects grip levels to climb when the temperatures drop as night descends, although how significant that will be remains an unknown.

“Last year we didn’t change much from daylight to night. I think it depends on the car, but for us we were pretty consistent,” he said. “Grip comes up. We got quicker in the race, and you feel a little bit comfier as you get towards the end of it. It was already getting that way in qualifying. I felt like the grip had come up, aside from the Turn 1, Turn 2 quick dry that was down there. That made it a little bit trickier. But once that gets run off, I think you’re going to have more grip than we’ve had. So (Turns) 3 and 4, it’s very possible we might get flat towards the end of the night. We’ll see. But I just don’t know. I think temperature-wise it’ll be nice for the fans. But racing-wise we don’t know yet.

“Hopefully we’ve got a little bit more ability to pass. That’s the goal for everybody. But we just don’t have answers on that yet.”

 

Daly tops dramatic final Gateway practice

Conor Daly topped the times on a Saturday evening practice session at Gateway that delivered mixed emotions for Carlin, and an unwelcome scare for championship leader and tomorrow’s pole-sitter Josef Newgarden.

Daly unseated Newgarden to stake his claim to the top spot with seven minutes left on the clock, and improved on his next lap to set the benchmark at 181.931mph. Would it be fast enough to keep him there during the last few minutes? We’ll never know, because less than a minute after Daly set his best time, Carlin team-mate Charlie Kimball ran high out of the final corner and pounded the wall hard enough to trash the front-right corner of his car and bring proceedings to a premature end.

This was bad news for Team Penske, which had spent the preceding minutes frantically trying to diagnose a murmur from Newgarden’s engine. Chevy engineers replaced the coil pack and had just gotten the No.2 fired up for an exploratory return to the circuit when Kimball had his accident. Now, the team that claimed pole just a short time ago now face a long night trying to determine whether they need to change the engine.

“It was something very faint,” said Newgarden. “It felt like a small hesitation. It’s normal; its big-time auto racing and you’re pushing these things to the limit. Maybe I was going too fast!

“The car felt awesome. Everything felt great. Chevy’s going to have a look and make sure we’re ready to rock; just trying to diagnose it here and make sure we’re in good order. But I’m feeling very confident. We’re doing everything we can to give information, they’ll look everything over and make sure we’re alright, and we’ll be ready to race tomorrow. No problem from my end. We’re going to be ready to rock tomorrow night.”

Down at the other end of pitlane, Daly acknowledged the importance of a strong session for a driver looking for a way back into the series full-time.

“That’s where we wanted to qualify,” said Daly, who will line up 18th tomorrow after catching a patch of oil during qualifying. “That was such a shame, because I love this track, and I know this car is fast and our long run pace was not bad. I’m just happy to be here and thankful to do this race. I’ve always wanted to do this race. I’m excited for tomorrow. It’s going to be a lot of work, though. Days like this are really important; we want to be able to do something strong every weekend. I’m trying to fight for a full-time seat. I want to be here with these guys fighting to win races.”

Zach Veach occupied the top of the timing screens for the first half of the session, and was quick enough to still be camped in third when Kimball hit the wall. Behind him, RLL’s Takuma Sato and Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top five.

Results to follow

Newgarden saves best for last to take Gateway pole

First place in points meant going last for Josef Newgarden in Friday night’s qualifying session at Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Team Penske driver made the wait work to his advantage to claim pole position for Saturday night’s Bommarito 500 with his No. 2 PPG Chevrolet.

“I’m glad we got this one finished off. It was kind of an Iowa situation where I’d said, ‘This is the car that can win the pole,’ and we just missed it by a little bit,” said Newgarden, who along with his teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will be trying to complete a sweep of the year’s five oval race wins for Penske. “I would have been so mad at us as a unit if we did that again.”

No worries this time — his two-lap average of 186.508 mph was more than half an mph clear of the next-fastest qualifier, and his second pole of the season extended Newgarden’s championship lead to 36 points over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

The final oval qualifying session of the year got underway in sunny weather but less than ideal track conditions after some parading vintage Indy cars dropped oil on the racing line into Turns 1 and 2 before qualifying. This required a heavy application of quick-dry that made things extra difficult for the early runners on the shallow-banked, 1.25-mile oval.

“It’s just sad ’cause you can’t go anywhere else here, and it’s literally like an ice-skating rink,” fumed first qualifier Conor Daly, who wound up 18th.

Power, though, insisted that Gateway’s oval doesn’t have to be a one-lane track, if the drivers would just make it so.

“I really wish guys would start using that second lane. It’s there, it’s fine; it’s just that people don’t use it,” said Power, who will start third in tomorrow night’s race. “So if everyone just started using it at the beginning of the race, there’d be a second lane and there’d be passing. I just wish people would know that — that you can pass people on the outside in (Turn) 1 early in the race. And if you kept doing it, you’d have passing.”

Power’s championship-leading teammate indicated that he, too, intends to get after it rather than play it cool, even though his nearest championship rival, Rossi, qualified a disappointing 11th.

“You’ve gotta be smart… but you can’t just race for points,” said Newgarden.

Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci, who set the pace in the opening practice session, admitted he’d been a bit cautious on his first qualifying lap due to the tricky-looking surface conditions and felt there was a lot more speed in the car…which teammate Bourdais was able to demonstrate on his subsequent run.

“I guess I took his word for it and gave it a big leap of faith, and the guys gave me a great car,” said Bourdais, whose impressive two-lap average of 185.927 mph on the 12th run of the day held up for pole until the last of the 22 qualifiers. “It was a lot of sliding around but Santino’s word was definitely reassuring.

“The qualifying on superspeedways and qualifying on short ovals is just completely different,” added the Frenchman. “It’s full commitment. You’ve got to trust, but you’ve really gotta send it — and consequences are pretty high, too. It’s not like you’re going around at 120 (mph); averaging 185, 186, we’re going down into Turn 1 at 200-something. So it’s substantial, but I really enjoyed Phoenix last year and I had a really good time this time around.”

The third Penske of Pagenaud joins Power on Row 2 ahead of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato and Ferrucci, while the fourth title contender, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, flanks Arrow SPM’s James Hinchcliffe on Row 4.

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Practice 2 under the lights at 9:15 p.m. ET.

PRUETT: IndyCar’s home run derby

We are in the midst of an extraordinary IndyCar phenomenon. Of the 12 races completed this season, six have gone down as majestic butt-kickings, and an argument could easily be made that we’ve seen seven. What an extraordinary thing to witness.

The same old axiom about the NTT IndyCar Series and how any among the top 15 drivers could win each weekend remains true. What’s changed, however, is the methodology behind those wins, as we’ve had more events turn into cakewalks, smackdowns, or outright knockouts than I can recall in a single championship run.

It’s races like the Indianapolis Grand Prix, where three drivers led 15 or more laps and an interloper swept in at the end to steal a dramatic victory, that feel like rarities.

Takuma Sato started the trend at Barber Motorsports Park after claiming pole and leading 74 of 90 laps to win for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Alexander Rossi, in one of his two disappearing acts to date, took pole in Long Beach and crushed the field by leading 85 of 90 laps to win for Andretti Autosport. Simon Pagenaud opened his first of two statement-making wins for Team Penske by capturing the pole and leading 116 of 200 laps at the Indianapolis 500; next on the lap-leader list was Rossi at 22.

Rossi did it again at Road America, taking the lead from second on the grid on the opening lap and running away from Will Power, who finished second, 28.4 seconds in arrears. In the 55-lap contest, Rossi was up front for 54; Graham Rahal led the one Rossi did not due to pit stop cycles. Talk about demoralizing.

It was Lap 1 and done for Rossi at Road America. Image by LAT.

Pagenaud continued the home run derby at the recent Toronto street race, starting from pole position and leading 80 of 85 laps while leaving everyone else — even the charging Scott Dixon — to scrap for runner-up status. And then we have last weekend’s race in Iowa, better known as the “Just Give Josef The Dang Trophy 300.”

Newgarden’s sprint from fourth on the grid to stomping the competition for 245 of 300 laps extended into early Sunday morning. It was the closest thing we’ve seen following Rossi’s Road America body slam. And if it weren’t for the caution period late in the race, the championship leader would have likely lapped more than the 15 cars he thrashed on the little oval.

We could also make a case for Will Power’s performance at Circuit of The Americas where he charged into Turn 1 from pole, then led 45 laps and had the race completely under control — but lost it all when NBC Sports’ beloved “Danger Zone” struck as Felix Rosenqvist crashed and the pits closed before the Penske man could stop. When he did pit, a gearbox failure sealed his fate while attempting to pull away from the box.

Despite the inopportune crash and broken gears, Power was almost finished authoring our seventh runaway race of 2019 until the racing gods intervened.

So, besides the crazy odds involved where more than half of this year’s races have felt like lead-off and walk-off home runs, is there a central reason behind this amazing increase in lopsided wins? Rossi’s race engineer Jeremy Milless has an idea on the ‘why’ and ‘how.’

“I would have to say it’s tires,” he said. “They change so much every year, every event. Firestone says they’re tiny changes, but they’re never tiny. Everything’s always different. So, I think it’s just that changing and you don’t know how the final tire’s going to perform sometimes until the race weekend starts and you run on them, because those tires aren’t always available when we go testing. So it can make it more unpredictable, which means if you hit the balance just that one bit better than all the other cars, you can destroy them.”

If Bretzman (left) and Pagenaud are smiling early in the weekend, chances are they’ll stay that way throughout given today’s realities. Image by Michael Levitt/LAT.

Simon Pagenaud’s race engineer Ben Bretzman isn’t sure on the ‘how’ and ‘why,’ but has a solid grasp on the ‘what.’

“I think most of it is when you do your prep work right, and you start the first session with the driver basically saying there’s nothing you can do to make it better, then all you do is just build confidence the rest of the practice sessions and qualifying,” he says. “And when you have an upper echelon driver, who’s got a really good car and who doesn’t need to pay attention to what the car is doing, and they can just focus on driving, then the weekend’s just going to be easy, right?

“And because the driver’s going to be good, the car is good, and you don’t really need to do too much to it — you’re just building that driver’s confidence the entire time. So he’s just getting better and better.

“As long as if you unload close on setup, the driver’s confidence is going to be skyrocketing. So he doesn’t have to worry about anything except for driving and that’s when you see these incredible performances. At the Indy 500, at Toronto, we never touched the car. So I think that’s going to be most of it.”

Just as Milless thinks tire variables have led to different driver and teams finding the magic solution, Bretzman looks to the ever-increasing use of off-track testing tools — driver simulators, chassis setup simulators, suspension rigs, damper dynos, and more — as contributing factors to the phenomenon. Every IndyCar team owns or has access to the tools, which has leveled the playing field to a greater degree — at least on the stopwatch — but there’s also a chance for some teams, and possibly just one of its driver/engineer combos, to really nail the setup.

“Oh for sure it’s helps, and all of our guys have access to that,” he said. “It helps a ton. That part makes the weekend much smoother from the standpoint that you don’t have to spend time trying things that you’ve already crossed off the list. It just guides you in the right direction, but I think you have to start really strong, which — if you can find that direction before you go into that first practice — is a huge thing.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see a guy dominate a weekend if he’s like 15th in Practice 1, because he just too far behind at that point in this day and age. Toronto was like that for us. The plan coming out of was so good, it translated immediately once we got going on track.”

In seven out of 12 races held so far, teams and their drivers have swung for the fences and connected. Will this weekend’s event at Mid-Ohio make it eight?

 

PRUETT: Return of the red, white and blue title duel

The last great championship battle among American Indy car drivers took place over a two-year span. It was Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr, Bobby Rahal, and Rick Mears locked in a four-way fight for CART IndyCar supremacy as the quartet finished 1-2-3-4 in the standings from 1990-1991.

In 1990, it was Little Al’s title to secure, the first of two the New Mexico native would earn. Pennsylvania’s Andretti took the crown in 1991, which stands as his highest achievement in the sport. And for good measure, Rahal’s championship in 1992 – the Ohioan’s third – came despite losing Mears from the mix due to injury, and required staving off the advances of Andretti and Unser.

A number of IndyCar champions from the U.S.A. have been produced since this rich and all-too brief era came to an end. In CART, the Indy Racing League, and the modern IndyCar Series, Americans have waved the flag and celebrated their achievements with great patriotism, but we’ve waited almost 30 years for at least two Americans to follow in the footsteps of their countrymen.

Although the 2019 championship is far from over, and there’s no guarantee it will remain a red, white, and blue duel, the rare situation of having Tennessee’s Josef Newgarden and California’s Alexander Rossi holding first and second in the championship and, even better, trading first- and second-place finishes at half of the races run so far, is starting to feel like the past is visiting the present.

“I think it’s great for a sport whenever you have any rivalry, and when it’s two Americans like Alex and Josef, it’s pretty special,” Andretti tells RACER.

Having spent most of his career pitted against Unser Jr in CART where foreign drivers often comprised the majority of the grid, Andretti sees many parallels in what’s taking shape between his driver and Team Penske’s Newgarden.

“I think the one thing that me and Al had was a great rivalry because we really respected each other and we were still friends, but on the racetrack, we raced each other as hard as you can but took care of each other as well,” he says. “Even if we both went into the corner side-by-side, we’re still both going to come out the other side. We had a mutual respect for each other. Some of my best memories of racing were against Al.

“So, it’d be great if that same sort of story would come up with Alex and Newgarden because, number one, they’re both Americans. So, to have an American rivalry I think would be great, and you can see something’s brewing. They’re both great young talents that I think are going to be around for a long time in the future of our sport and for a long time. So, it’d be great if they could develop some sort of rivalry where… Not a hostile one, more a respected rivalry where they raced each other really hard on the racetrack.”

Like his team owner, Rossi has carried the hopes of Americans in Formula 1. At home in IndyCar, and just seven points shy of Newgarden in the championship with seven races left on the calendar, the 27-year-old phenom has a genuine desire to rekindle the patriotic rivalries of a Andretti vs Unser or Rahal vs Mears that added to CART’s vast popularity.

“I think it’s great for the series,” he says. “I think it’s super-timely, with obviously having our new partnership with NBC. I think it’s wonderful, and I’m really happy to kind of be one of those guys that’s the American representation fighting for it.

Rossi also knows five-time and reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon from New Zealand has a knack for spoiling such things as a perennial title contender.

“And yeah, I mean, we all love Scott . We all know that he’s the best that’s ever done it and probably the best that’s ever going to do it. But, he’s not American. Right?” he continues

“So, as much as we love that and I love watching him drive, and we all kind of wait to see what he’s going to accomplish, I think that Americans are very patriotic people and passionate about the red, white, and blue. And I think it’s cool that there’s, there’s American guys that are fighting for it. And obviously Josef already won a championship, but I think that year he was competing against Scott as well. And then when Ryan won in 2012, he was competing against Will . So there hasn’t really been an American versus American battle in a while, and it’s pretty awesome.”

In an interesting twist, Newgarden doesn’t share Rossi’s enthusiasm for the emerging American vs American angle.

“I’ve never been one to look too aggressively into what nations are being represented and who are the big rivalries,” says Penske’s 2017 title winner. “I think it is great for sports and I would agree. To me, I don’t pay too much attention to it. I really don’t. For me, it doesn’t really matter. I look at everyone out there that I’m going to be in competition with, and if you’re asking that question, then without a doubt, Alex is a huge part of the equation. When you look at the landscape of who’s competitive and who’s on the radar, he is right up there towards the top, and you’ve got a couple of guys there.”

With three wins in 2019 to the two earned by Rossi, Newgarden currently holds the upper hand in points and victories, but that could change when the IndyCar Series arrives in Canada next week. Stylistically, the 28-year-old southerner and his west coast rival have mimicked the manner Andretti and Unser treated each other on an off the track.

But with a shot at his second championship on the line, and Rossi being just as close to taking his first, the true heights of civility have yet to be tested. As the pressure builds, provided the two Americans maintain their grasp on first and second in the standings, good manners could give way to harsher tactics. Andretti hopes it never strays beyond fair play.

“Me and Al had that,” he says. “I mean, we freaking raced each other hard. Me, I had fun racing against him. I think the press and the public enjoyed that side of it. I don’t think you need them to hate each other. You don’t have to hate each other to have a rivalry.”

For his part, Newgarden believes he knows how far Rossi can be pushed before tapping out.

“Honestly, I think Rossi’s quite a consistent racer,” he says. “You know what you’re going to get from him. You know you’re going to get very, very hard driving and he’s gonna push you. But he only goes to a certain degree, and you can account for that I think, and you have to. You got to know where everyone’s limits are and what their traits are, as far as how they drive and how they race in close quarters, and I think with Rossi, you see a very aggressive driving style, but there’s always a point where that stops. He drives aggressively to a point, and you consistently know where that is and you can benchmark that.

“It gives you some parameters to operate in with him, and probably vice versa. He does the same thing with me. He’s going to look at how I drive and he knows my tendencies and he’s going to shape his way of attack around me, with, historically, what he knows that I do. I think I’m pretty consistent for the most part as well. But it’s no different than another competitor. You measure all these guys and build a profile for them and then you race them accordingly. He’s very aggressive, but I think he is fair.”

There’s no doubt which driver Andretti is rooting for as the season heads towards its September 22 conclusion in Monterey. Beyond the battle among homegrown talent, he knows a Rossi or Newgarden championship, akin to those he and other Americans earned decades ago in CART, would be enriched by keeping great international drivers at bay.

“We bring in some of the best talent all over the world, and you want that,” he says. “You don’t want to just be seen as a domestic series with only Americans. You want to be racing the best, and I think that’s important that we don’t lose that. I love it that we have our best Americans going up against the best of the world, and so I think that’s something that’s very important.”

“When Juan Montoya was winning all the races, it was great to see all the Colombian flags and to see the following that he had. That’s only good for the sport. I’d love to see more French flags around, for instance, now with Simon Pagenaud as the Indy 500 winner. More American flags for our guys, too, would be good to see. We have a lot going on to be proud of.”