Josef Newgarden’s season could have been summed up by missing the entry of the most spectacular corner of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The No. 2 Hitachi Penske Chevrolet team driver was on the first qualifying lap Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca when he cut a deterrent left-side curb as he approached the famous “corkscrew” and sped down the hill. With his car wedged against the track, he was literally stuck.
Newgarden’s mistake forced him to accept the 25th starting position for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (2:40 p.m. ET, NBC; 3 p.m. ET, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and INDYCAR Radio Network), clearly not the he favorite place to erase his 20-point deficit for Team Penske’s Will Power, the series points leader who will start on pole.
By winning the NTT P1 award, Power effectively extended his series lead to 21 points over Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon. Power can secure the title by finishing third or better no matter what the other contenders do.
“I just made a mistake; it’s such a shame,” Newgarden said. “Yeah, it’s a disappointment. It’s a hassle for everyone. »
This track offers trouble at nearly every corner, which is something Newgarden has to hope for with many drivers ahead of him. Passing 24 cars to take the lead will otherwise be a challenge in a routine head-to-head battle. However, he said he thought he had “the fastest car on the course”.
“It’s not over, but it’s not ideal what just happened here,” Newgarden said. “So that’s what it is.”
Dixon is in much the same situation, although he will start higher up the field (13th). He and fellow title contenders Scott McLaughlin and Marcus Ericsson were in the same qualifying group as Newgarden, and they lost valuable time on the track as the AMR safety team went to the corkscrew to help the car blocked.
Dixon said he couldn’t get enough of a gap behind rookie Kyle Kirkwood (#14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing) to make a difference. He finished the session 0.0866 seconds behind Ericsson for the final transfer spot.
“Maybe I should have held back a bit more, (but) I thought he was going to go,” said No. 9 PNC Bank rider Chip Ganassi Racing Honda of Kirkwood. “There was such a big gap to 15 (Graham Rahal) ahead of him, but ultimately you’re talking less than a tenth (of a second) that we missed it, which is frustrating.”
McLaughlin (#3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet) and Ericsson (#8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) made it through to round two, but that’s all they could do. They will start eighth and 10th respectively in the 26-car field. Both must win the race to have a chance at the championship. Ericsson is effectively 40 points from the lead, McLaughlin 42.
Now the quartet chasing Power must be hoping that tire degradation will play a big role in the 95-lap race and the peloton will be knocked down. Unless I’m mistaken, this is probably their best bet.
“It’s all up to the game as we’ve seen in many races,” Dixon said. “I think this year is going to be different for Monterey.”
Chase title marks
Much attention has been given to Dixon attempting to take the bottom rung of the ladder with a record seventh series championship, but Newgarden can take a big step as well.
Another championship would give Newgarden three for his career. Only seven drivers in history have that many, and only five drivers have more.
The three series champions include Louis Meyer (1928, 1929, 1933), Ted Horn (1946, 1947, 1948), Jimmy Bryan (1954, 1956, 1957), Rick Mears (1979, 1981, 1982), Al Unser ( 1970, 1983, 1985), Bobby Rahal (1986, 1987, 1992) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2001, 2002, 2006).
The quadruple winners are Mario Andretti (1965, 1966, 1969, 1984), Sébastien Bourdais (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) and Dario Franchitti (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011).
AJ Foyt holds the record with seven season titles (1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1975, 1979). Dixon won his championships in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, 2018 and 2020.
Newgarden is one of 14 drivers with two season titles, which means Power could become No. 15.
Malukas and Lundgaard to settle rookie title
If series officials tally up any points on Saturday night, which they don’t, David Malukas would replace Christian Lundgaard for the rookie of the year award.
Malukas qualified seventh, narrowly missing out on what would have been his third-place Firestone Fast Six of the season. Lundgaard qualified 16th. In the race, the difference between these final positions is 12 points in favor of Malukas. Lundgaard leads by just five points.
Malukas’ qualifying effort in moto two was slowed by Ericsson’s spin in the corkscrew, giving him just one lap to deliver a quality lap. The driver of Dale Coyne Racing’s #18 Honda HMD with HMD said he wanted to get as much advantage as possible over Lundgaard, but didn’t want to risk a mistake that would leave him 12th.
“Let’s take it easy, let’s start the round,” Malukas said of the final lap of round two. “I think on our side we will try to have the best possible race. He is definitely (close). I was pushing really hard. We have that little gap, but the tire (degradation) is a huge issue here. Strategy is going to play a big role here.
Lundgaard acknowledged that he left last week’s test “a bit confused” and was still getting used to the various Firestone Firehawk compounds.
“We put the (alternative) tires on (here), and we went slower,” he said. “We just don’t seem to be using the maximum with (them).”
Last races together for some
The end of any racing season always ends team relationships. One of the big names in this series is Alexander Rossi who is racing in his final race with Andretti Autosport.
After seven seasons, eight race wins, a win in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, seven poles and two top-three finishes, Rossi will face Michael Andretti’s organization for the final time on Sunday. He will join Arrow McLaren SP for the 2023 season and beyond.
“Obviously we knew it was coming, but yeah, it’s going to be a sad day on Sunday for a lot of reasons,” Rossi said. “I’ve been with this team since the start of my INDYCAR career, and I know a lot of these (crew members) on a personal level, I know their families and we hang out away from the tracks.
“It’ll be a little weird to have that ‘Thank you, see you soon’ type dynamic, but it’s all part of life, and I’ll come away with more good memories than bad, and I really appreciate the whole organization. of Andretti Autosport over the past seven years.
Rossi said living in Indianapolis, like him and most of the crew, will allow many of their friendships to continue.
“Every time a change happens, it’s weird, but on the other side, there’s the excitement of new horizons and new opportunities, and I’m looking forward to that at the same time,” a- he declared.
Rossi will start third in the #27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. He will be looking for his second race victory of the season.
More in motion
Sunday will also be Kyle Kirkwood’s last race at AJ Foyt Racing as he fills the seat vacated by Rossi in 2023. Kirkwood spent one season with the team and will start 17th in the season finale.
It remains to be seen whether Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) will return to their current rides depending on how Palou’s future is resolved. And then there is Colton Herta, the Andretti Autosport driver who is wanted by Scuderia AlphaTauri in Formula 1.
Herta has won the last two races of the series at this track from pole but will start 18th in the No.26 Gainbridge Honda after going off course in Turn 4 of qualifying.
“We just struggled all weekend,” Herta said. “I definitely made a mistake there, and that kind of held back our progress. We’ll have to try and find something for the race to try and tame that car because it seems like everyone is really struggling there. If we could find just a little, I think that would propel us a whole lot.
Jimmie Johnson told reporters that his sponsor, Carvana, would back him up again in 2023, but he didn’t say what his schedule would be. Johnson will start 23rd in the #48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
- As the NBC broadcast team noted, this might be the happiest front row in the show’s history. Alongside Power, who took his career-record 68th pole, rookie Callum Ilott (No. 77 Chevrolet Juncos Hollinger) clinched his best starting spot. It was Ilott’s first time reaching the Firestone Fast Six. Ilott said it was humiliating as a small one-car team driver to “fight with the big boys.”
- Chevrolet celebrated its constructors’ championship on Saturday. He has won 11 of 16 races this season – 10 with Team Penske, the other with Arrow McLaren SP. Chevrolet has won seven of those titles since 2012. Three of its drivers are in contention for the championship on Sunday.
- This is the fourth NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the season for Simona De Silvestro. At the wheel of the Chevrolet Paretta Autosport n°16, she will start 26th. She and the team welcomed Olympic gold medalist Kaillie Humphries, a Canadian-American who won the monobob at the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier in the year, to the track on Saturday.
- Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES action begins with a 30-minute practice at noon ET. NBC’s broadcast of the 95-lap race begins at 2:40 p.m. with the green flag expected at 3:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. on Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR radio network.
- Sting Ray Robb took his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires win on Saturday in dominant fashion, crossing the finish line 11.0674 seconds ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Christian Rasmussen. Linus Lundqvist has taken the green flag to officially clinch the series title and earn an incentive package to compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES next season. He finished sixth in Saturday’s race. The final race of the season is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.