Newgarden on championship advantage after Iowa victory: “We just have to keep going”

by Jordan Groves

After claiming a dominant fourth victory of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series in last Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway, Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden has stated that he is happy to have rebuilt his championship lead to twenty-nine points, but has reiterated that he and his team “have to keep going” for the final few races of the season to secure the title.

Heading into the weekend at Iowa Speedway, Newgarden remained in the lead of the championship standings, but only just. After a dominating win at Road America and a podium finish in Toronto, Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi has reduced Newgarden’s lead to just four points, with Josef somewhat under pressure to get a strong result after a disappointing weekend in Canada.

Team Penske ruled the roost in qualifying for Saturday night’s race at Iowa Speedway. The team locked out the front three spots on the grid, but Newgarden would have to settle for third place behind pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud and second-placed Will Power.

Despite qualifying strongly in third place, Newgarden looked perhaps the most frustrated and angry that he has looked throughout his entire NTT IndyCar Series career to date. His usual happy demeanour had completely shifted post-qualifying, with Josef giving a short and to the point response in interviews shortly thereafter.

“Yeah, just not enough today,” Josef said after qualifying on Friday, “So we will go tomorrow. I think it will be fine, it just wasn’t enough there. The Hitachi car, it feels good. Chevy, I think, has done a great job for us, so now we will work on the race.” 

Josef turned his frustrations from Friday night into pure determination for Saturday night’s race. After the long delay prior to the start of the race due to a torrential downpour, Pagenaud would lead initially from pole position before Power took over the top spot shortly thereafter. However, Newgarden’s turn would soon come around. His #2 Chevrolet looked much more composed whilst running in lapped traffic, thus allowing him to take the lead of the race; a lead that he never looked like he was going to relinquish once he got out front.

Newgarden would go on to lead the most laps of the race. A brief scare came within the closing stages of the race when a crash for Ed Carpenter brought out a full-course caution. With only a handful of laps remaining, the drivers and teams had a dilemma to deal with. Drivers could come into the pits for new tyres and risk losing too much track position, but they would gain a lot of time on the fresh rubber once the race got back to green.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

Newgarden and Penske opted to not pit, remaining out in the lead of the race for the final sprint to the finish. A number of drivers who did stop for tyres, including Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, gained a lot of ground initially, but their tyres would soon begin to wear and their pace advantage would soon fade away.

Ultimately, Newgarden would cross the line to take his fourth win of the 2019 season with a three-second advantage of second-place finisher Scott Dixon, with Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe completing the podium in third place. With Newgarden’s closest championship rival, Alexander Rossi, finishing the race further back in sixth place, Josef’s championship advantage had swelled from four points to twenty-nine points with five races remaining until the champion is crowned.

After the race, Josef admitted that he had been “frustrated” after qualifying, but that he felt “much happier” now that he was stood in victory circle. He would also pay tribute to the fans at Iowa Speedway who endured a long wait after the rain delay, with the race ultimately finishing almost seven hours after it was originally scheduled to begin.

“I’m much happier tonight, I can tell you that,” Newgarden said after the race. “I was really a little bit frustrated yesterday just because I knew we had a pole-winning car. We didn’t put it together. It’s competitive.”

“Let me thank the fans that stayed,” Josef added later, “I’m sorry it took so long but glad we got it in tonight. We can’t help the weather.

“My guys were awesome on the Hitachi car. Team Penske, Team Chevy, I can’t thank them enough. We had three fast cars. I wanted to be the fastest. We succeeded tonight. The car was great. You had to be good in traffic, and we were pumped for the guys. They worked really hard. It was nice to have it under the lights. I think if the weather didn’t come, we weren’t going to be under the lights.

“We just have to keep going. It’s early. This helps tonight, but it’s never enough. You never have enough points. We just have to stay on top of it.”

Newgarden will be hoping to perform well again this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series rolls into Lexington, Ohio, for the 2019 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, which will take place on Sunday, July 28. Alexander Rossi dominated the race from pole position twelve months ago.

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