Newgarden takes Indycar championship stranglehold at Gateway

As IndyCar returned to Gateway, the gloves came off at Penske as Josef Newgarden put on a display that showed how much he wants his first IndyCar title

Newgarden had already been on a roll after back-to-back wins in Toronto and Mid-Ohio. A strong showing in Pocono netted a second place finish and an extension of his championship lead, but Gateway was where it really looked like this could be Newgarden’s year. Penske had dominated qualifying with Will Power taking pole ahead of Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves. It looked set to be a Penske-fest in the race, but no one could have predicted just how aggressive the racing was to get between two of the teams drivers, Newgarden and Pagenaud.

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The start saw one Penske vanish from the equation instantly, with Power being overtaken by Newgarden into turn one then spinning out of the race in a horrific crash involving himself, Ed Carpenter going over him and Takuma Sato being collected as well.

At the restart, Newgarden settled into a nice lead and dominated the early proceedings. A careful pitstop at the race’s next caution lead to Newgarden slipping behind Castroneves, who then gave up the lead at the next pitstop after stalling as he entered his pit box. The final part of the race saw the Penskes under a bit of pressure from the revitalised Conor Daly for A.J Foyt racing and the man you can never discount, Scott Dixon. Pagenaud led the field away at the final restart as he looked to make inroads on Newgarden. But with less than a quarter of the race to go, Newgarden made an unbelievable move.

“I was surprised he left me a lane and if he leaves me a gap I’m going to take it. I had a great tow and he knew I was coming. I didn’t want to touch him too hard and I kinda figured he might back off when I was alongside.”

Josef Newgarden

His car looked to be the most hooked up of the lead group, and he had already had a couple of runs on Pagenaud. With 32 to go, he made his move. Pagenaud defended into turn one but Newgarden stuck it down the inside and banged into Pagenaud, the Frenchman going way wide and almost into the wall and allowing Scott Dixon to steal second place from him to keep himself right in the title fight.

Newgarden then bolted away and held the lead right until the end, and was over the moon with what was perhaps the best win of his IndyCar career. Pagenaud, meanwhile, was incensed. Not only with the contact, but how it led to his own title hopes taking a big hit after Dixon got by him.

“[Newgarden] doesn’t have any respect for me and he’s lucky it was me or we’d have both been in the wall. If that had been a road course it was a beautiful pass but we were going 190 mph.”

Simon Pagenaud

But Newgarden’s move could well win him this year’s championship and shows just how badly he wants a title in his first year at Penske. He was seen prior to the switch to the team this year as the next big American star in the series, along with the likes of Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot.

Newgarden’s pace and image lead to him replacing Juan-Pablo Montoya for this year and take his first Penske win in just his third start for the team. A blot on his copybook came at Texas after a restart saw him slam into the wall, but since then he has racked up the points with his latest three wins and Pocono podium. His aggressiveness is somewhat surprising, as he does not have a fiery streak in his personality but it’s moves like the one on Pagenaud, and indeed on Power at Mid-Ohio that win championships.

If Newgarden does win the championship, he can look at Gateway as the race that saw him become the title favourite and show the IndyCar paddock that he is the next big thing. All that would be left to add to his CV is an Indy 500 victory. And with what he has already shown, that surely is not too far away.