2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship leader, Josef Newgarden, has stated that he is happy with a “solid” fifth-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland after mistakes in qualifying saw him start down in thirteenth place. After staying out of trouble in the race, Josef’s fifth-place finish means that he enters the season finale with a forty-one point lead in the standings over Alexander Rossi.
Newgarden, who has led the standings for almost the entire length of the season, entered the weekend at Portland hoping to leave with as high of a points advantage as possible heading into the double-point finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca later this month. He held a thirty-eight point lead in the standings over team-mate Simon Pagenaud as the weekend began.
Josef’s weekend looked to be in a potentially difficult spot after Saturday’s qualifying session. After a few ragged laps in the first session, Josef would be knocked out of the top six in his session and would therefore not advance out of round one. He would have to settle for a thirteenth-place grid position and would be right in the danger zone at the start of Sunday’s race.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Josef said after Saturday’s qualifying session, “You just can’t make a mistake and I made a couple of them there. I got wide on the curb coming off of [Turn] seven and probably dropped a tenth [of a second] on one lap and dropped another tenth on the final corner on the next. It was going to be close, and you just can’t afford a tenth. That’s Portland – that’s how it was last year. I knew it was going to be the same way this year, but our Hitachi Chevy is good. It was fast all weekend and Chevy has done a great job. We’ve just got to race hard.”
Despite being right in the mid-field for the start of the race, Josef was miraculously able to avoid being caught up in the opening lap melee caused by Graham Rahal at turn one. Newgarden was able to take to the run-off area at the first complex of corners and was able to avoid any damage. He would gain a few positions during the next caution after Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jack Harvey came together, moving Josef into the lower end of the top ten.
From there, Newgarden would set about picking off car after car to work his way higher up in the order. At the end of the first stint of the race, he was all the way up into fifth-place. After that, Josef never quite looked fast enough to take the fight to anybody else. What’s more, he did not want to risk making bold overtaking moves or defending positions too hard, which both could have seen him involved in a collision that would cost him vital championship points.
The late caution period inside the final ten laps offered an opportunity for Newgarden to perhaps gain more positions, but ultimately he would maintain his position and would take the chequered flag in fifth-place; a very decent result given the carnage at the start of the race and his lowly grid position.
“Where we finished is about what we could hope for on a thirteenth place start,” Newgarden said after the race, “We got kind of in the mess at the start. That is the risky part when you qualify thirteenth. You can end up in the mess as we did at the beginning. Fortunately, we didn’t hit anything. We kept going and that was the most important part of the day. Then we just worked on making the most of the rest of the day.
“Climbing into the top five was what we had from where we started, as I said. It was a good day for the guys. The Hitachi car was quick at the end. We weren’t too quick at the start, but towards the end, it got better and it helped us get positions we needed. Chevy did a great job as always. Can’t be disappointed with fifth. Overall a solid day to head to the finale.”
Newgarden’s fifth-place finish means that he will enter the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with a forty-one point lead in the championship standings. However, his comfortable advantage could easily be negated at the finale, which will award double points.
This means that Josef could still lose the championship if either Alexander Rossi or Simon Pagenaud win the race and he finishes in sixth place or lower. However, if Newgarden finishes in the top four – or the top five depending on bonus points – it is all over for his competition and he will be a two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion.
The season finale, the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, will take place on Sunday, September 22.