After securing the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship crown in yesterday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden has spoken of his relief to have sealed the deal after leading the standings for so long. Newgarden claimed his second IndyCar title with his eighth-place finish yesterday and led the points standings after all but one of the seventeen races during the 2019 season.
Newgarden entered the final race of the 2019 season with, what on the outside appeared to be, a comfortable advantage in the championship standings. He held a lead of forty-one points over his nearest rival, Alexander Rossi, with his team-mate, Simon Pagenaud, a further point back. However, double points were on offer for the season finale at Laguna Seca, meaning that Newgarden still had to finish well to ensure he would take the title.
After qualifying on Saturday, things were looking promising for Josef. He qualified in a solid fourth-place, which was the exact position he would need to finish the race to guarantee himself the championship no matter where his rivals finished. More importantly, he was right up at the sharp end of the grid, along with his three championship rivals.
“Yeah, I mean, in our situation it’s a good thing to be close to the competition, specifically the ones in the championship,” Newgarden said after qualifying on Saturday. “Yeah, we’ve got to have a good clean run tomorrow. You’d like to win every race and maybe we’ve got a race-winning car tomorrow. It certainly feels like we have the capability of it. But we need to have a good clean day, try and not get caught up in anything, and just run our race like we normally would. I think that’s what we’ll try and focus on.”
The race on Sunday was a tense affair for Josef Newgarden. At the start of the race, he was able to remain inside the top five in the race, mixing it up with his rivals Rossi and Pagenaud. However, as the race went on, it became apparent that his #2 Chevrolet just didn’t have the pace of those around him. Eager to ensure that they didn’t throw the title away defending hard against drivers behind him, Josef’s engineer, Tim Cindric, coached Newgarden through the remainder of the race. Josef would not put up too much of a fight on drivers such as Felix Rosenqvist and Sebastien Bourdais, with Josef settling into a comfortable eighth-place for the closing laps of the race.
The biggest threat to Josef’s imminent championship glory came from his team-mate, Pagenaud. With Josef down in eighth and Simon on the back of the leading trio of cars, if Simon had been able to get into the lead of the race, the title would be his. However, Simon would try as hard as he could to pass Dixon for third place, but he just could not find a way by before the chequered flag flew.
Ultimately, with Dixon third, Pagenaud fourth and Rossi sixth, eighth place would be enough to see Josef crowned the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion, with his points advantage being trimmed from forty-one points down to twenty-five by the end of the race.
After climbing from the cockpit of his #2 Penske Chevrolet post-race, the weight off of Josef’s shoulders was visible. A major outpour of emotion on pit-road came as Newgarden celebrated with his pit-crew. In post-race interviews, Josef would speak of the sheer relief that he felt after finally securing the championship and of the anxiety he had felt coming into the race with double-points threatening to steal the title from him at the last moment.
“I’m just happy it’s done with, to be honest with you,” an emotional Newgarden said after being crowned champion for the second time, “I’ve been dreading the last couple weeks because I don’t think it really hits you until you get finally to Laguna or after Portland I should say, two weeks to go, because then you really realize the points situation. It’s just such a stressful deal with double points. I hated it. I hated thinking about it, and I know we didn’t build up enough of a gap to make it super easy on ourselves, and I was just kind of dreading it, to be honest with you.
“[I] Just didn’t know what was going to happen today, and I just wanted to make sure we secured the championship because I felt like our guys deserved it. Everyone works really hard in this paddock. It doesn’t matter which team or what driver you are. I think everyone works really hard. I’m pretty intimate with my guys and know how hard they work personally, and I just wanted them to be rewarded with the championship. That was weighing on me a lot. I was just happy we were able to get through today.
“It was kind of a chaotic event. There were moments where I didn’t think it was going to go our way. We kind of set a strategy and stuck to it, and I don’t know that it was working out part way through, but then you saw towards the end, the way things were positioned, it ended up being okay, which made me really pleased. But I think we were trying to cover our bases as a team.
“The most important thing was for a Team Penske car to win the championship, and that’s the way we devised our strategy, and you hope it works out in your favour, but ultimately what’s important is the team winning the championship, and that was our plan.
“Just really proud of everybody. I’m just so thankful to have the opportunity, and I’m just happy it’s over with, to be honest with you. I can’t wait to go into this offseason. I think it’s going to be a nice little rest before next year.“