After contact with the wall put him out of contention for the 2018 Honda Indy Toronto victory, Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden has said that he and the team need to “move on” and “try to pick it back up” if they want to stay in the running for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series title.
With the race in Toronto now in the books, just five races remain until this year’s champion will be crowned. As a result, there is not much time left for any lost ground to be made back up. This made Newgarden’s race result in Toronto somewhat of a tough pill to swallow.
The weekend had started off fantastically for Josef, who put in a stunning run in qualifying to beat Scott Dixon to pole position. Dixon, the championship leader, had been showing some ominous form throughout the build-up to the race, but a drying race track at the end of qualifying saw constant improvements in lap-time, with Newgarden’s last lap enough to secure the top spot on the grid.
“The last lap, I could feel it was getting better and better,” Newgarden said after the exciting qualifying session concluded, “I’m like, ‘I’ve got to go for it here. I know that we can get the pole so I’m going to go for it.’ I gave it everything I had and that’s what we came up with.”
The race started off well for Josef, too. The reigning series champion held his lead at the start of the race, surviving a brief attempt from Dixon to steal the lead away. Dixon stayed within firing range of Newgarden throughout the first stages of the race, but the field bunched back up when the first caution came out on lap twenty-eight.
Even at this early stage of the race, there was a large build-up of tyre marbles off of the racing line, which made things rather treacherous should any driver venture out there. As Newgarden led the field to the race restart, he appeared to understeer out of the final corner and onto the marbles. From there, he was a passenger as he made contact with the outside wall.
The contact damaged Newgarden’s #1 Penske Chevrolet and cost him all of his momentum heading down the straightaway. This allowed Dixon to drive by to take the lead of the race, with Josef being forced to pit for repairs at the end of the lap.
A series of cautions over the next few laps allowed Josef’s team to fix his car without him falling a lap down on the race leaders. This proved vital, with Josef being able to work his way back through the order during the remainder of the race, ultimately coming away with a ninth-place finish.
All things considered, ninth is not the worst result in the world, but with Dixon going on to win the race, there is now a sixty-two point gap between Josef and the lead of the championship. With only five races remaining this season, it will be tough for Josef, or anyone for that matter, to catch up to Dixon unless he has a handful of poor finishes. However, Josef stated after the race that despite the disappointment of Toronto, he believed that he could get back into contention due to the abilities of his team.
“It was a tough race. Making contact with the wall didn’t help,” Newgarden said of his incident mid-race, “I don’t know what it was, to be honest with you, it was either marbles or dust from the sweepers; they’re trying to clean off the track and that yellow, when we already had tons of marbles 27 laps in.
“I don’t know what to tell you, I went straight into the wall. And part of that is my fault, just making a mistake, but I didn’t expect it; I’ll tell you that. I just had no idea the car was going to do that. I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely.
“I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake. This No. 1 Hitachi Chevy was quick today, I think it was capable of being in the top three or potentially winning the race if I didn’t make the mistake, but you have days like this in racing. We have to move on now and try to pick it back up.
“With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing. We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”
Newgarden’s next opportunity to try and close to gap to Dixon in the standings will come in just under two weeks time at the 2018 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Newgarden won at Mid-Ohio last year, but Dixon is a five-time winner at the circuit, so it could be an exciting exchange between the two. The race will take place on Sunday, July 29.