Newgarden continues second half run of form with P6 in Sonoma

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After a rough stretch of races from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis through Houston, Josef Newgarden and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing squad continued their solid second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season with their best performance yet at Sonoma.

Newgarden qualified second on Saturday, and the good news continued early Sunday morning for both he and the team with the confirmation he’d stay at the merged CFH Racing team – Fisher, Hartman and Ed Carpenter come together in 2015.

“We have that continuity as a group,” Fisher told MotorSportsTalk Sunday morning after the deal was announced. “What Josef’s done, what this team has done in his gelling with Jeremy (Milless, engineer) and the rest of this group has been great. We went from being nowhere here two years ago to front row now, and it’s because of that continuity.”

If Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma would have gone true to form based purely on the qualifying order, Newgarden again could have made the podium.

But varying strategies and a big temperature change – Sunday’s race ran with ambient more than 10 and track temperature more than 20 degrees warmer than the morning – negatively affected the race for the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda crew.

Newgarden ended sixth after starting second, and that finish marked his best result on a road or street course this season.

Overall, it’s his fourth top-10 finish in the last seven races, after only posting two in the first 10 of the year. As a result, he’s climbed from 20th to 13th in the points standings after this stretch.

“I think the temperature hurt us quite a bit,” Newgarden said in the team’s post-race release. “It was a hot day, and it just didn’t suit what we were doing very well. We were much better in the morning when it was cooler, and we just weren’t as strong when the temperature went up and also as the track got slower from dust and wind pickup.

“It just got slower all afternoon, and we just got worse, and it didn’t cater to what we were doing setup-wise. The tire degradation was tough today. We were out to lunch on that, and I think that was all attributed to temperature. We were strong in some aspects, but the temperature hurt us.”

But compared to the last two years, the team made major strides. Newgarden started 22nd and ended 23rd in 2012, but suffered a broken finger after an accident. Things didn’t get much better last year when he started 17th and ended 24th with a mechanical.

“I think the positive to take away from this weekend is that we secured a solid top-10 result on one of our more difficult tracks over the last couple of years,” Newgarden said. “We’ve made big strides in what we’re doing and the direction we’ve gone.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2