By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
After starting off the season strong, Josef Newgarden kind of fell off as the temp rose.
The 12th place finish at the Indianapolis 500 kind of kicked off a string of bad luck for the No. 2 Team Penske team including the 21st place finish at Road America. Mid-Ohio kind of sparked something in the Hendersonville, Tennessee native that has given them the chance to steal the championship, if he can pounce in these final two races. Winning at Gateway gave him that real opportunity as he sits 3rd in points for the first time back-to-back this season.
Newgarden was third after the Indianapolis Grand Prix back in May and has since been playing catchup. Now putting together something, Newgarden has added his coal to the fire for his third NTT Data IndyCar Series championship. Sunday’s fifth-place finish could’ve been better but was his first back-to-back top-five finish since May.
“We were close,” said Newgarden. “I wish, well it’s hard to be disappointed on a day like today. That’s a good climb up, we just needed to be a little bit further there obviously. Palou gapping us there is not ideal but we just need to bring this thing down to the wire at Long Beach, that’s what it’ll take.”
Newgarden was well within the fight back early in the season finishing second in St. Pete, sixth and second in the Texas double, and fourth in the May Indianapolis Grand Prix. As noted, he was third headed into the Indianapolis 500 but a string of bad luck struck the No. 2 team but they were never out of the picture. Now, with a victory in two of the last four races, Newgarden is 34-points behind the points leader Alex Palou and just nine points out of second.
“No doubt that we are well within the fight,” added Newgarden. “It’s just not ideal, right? I wish we could’ve done more damage there today but we didn’t. We salvaged, I think, a good enough day to keep us well in the fight. It is plenty doable, it’s just going to be a hard slog here for these last two.”
Newgarden has experience at the next two tracks, something that Palou is missing. He finished eighth in his one and only Laguna Seca start and has eight starts at Long Beach including a second-place finish in 2019, the last time the series competed at the famed street course. When Newgarden says it’s doable, the No. 2 team will give it all they’ve got as Newgarden chases his third championship. After all, Newgarden has the experience of racing for a championship that Palou and Pato O’Ward don’t.
Photo: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media