Mid-Ohio win vaults Newgarden into championship lead for first time

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Josef Newgarden’s victory at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, his third win of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, was enough to vault him into the championship lead for the first time in his IndyCar career with four races remaining in the season.

Further, as the first driver to win three races this year, a recent trend suggests Newgarden may have the inside track to the championship. In each of the the last two years, the driver who was the first to win three races (Scott Dixon in 2015, Simon Pagenaud in 2016) went on to win the IndyCar championship. (Of note: Dixon was the only driver to win three or more races in 2015, his third win that year coming at the season finale at Sonoma Raceway).

“I think it’s great!” Newgarden quipped in the post-race press conference when asked about leading the championship. “You know, we’ve got to keep building the gap hopefully. And maintaining it is certainly the number one key, but if we can keep building the gap and increase it, that’s going to only help for Sonoma.”

However, Newgarden’s championship lead is a slim one as the already close championship picture became even closer still following Mid-Ohio. Newgarden leads teammate Helio Castroneves by seven points (453-446), with Dixon one further point back in third, his season total standing at 445 at the moment.

Simon Pagenaud sits fourth on 436 points, meaning the top four in the championship are covered by only 17 points with four races remaining.

Will Power and Graham Rahal are still in the thick of things as well. Power sits on 401 points, 52 out of the lead, while Rahal sits on 395 points, 58 markers out.

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Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.