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Title drama builds as Veach takes Indy Lights win at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Zach Veach went from fifth to first on the opening lap of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race at Watkins Glen International and never looked back en route to his second win of the season on the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

Meanwhile, behind him, the title chase took a big shakeup going into next week’s season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with Santiago Urrutia going off course, then puncturing his left front tire, pitting and falling to last place in the 12-car field.

Coupled with Ed Jones (Carlin) finishing second behind Veach (Belardi Auto Racing), and suddenly Urrutia’s points lead that began the day at 17 points is down to one point leaving the day.

Veach’s run from fifth to first on the opening lap was miraculous, and he was by polesitter Urrutia at the Inner Loop (Bus Stop) after picking off three cars by the exit of Turn 1.

Urrutia’s weekend came unglued by way of not having done any long runs in practice. He hadn’t run very many long stints in practice or qualifying – he’d only done a total of 12 practice laps before qualifying in the two official sessions – and his tires went off as the race went on.

He had held off a train of Jones, Andre Negrao and Kyle Kaiser before it all went away on Lap 15. Jones made it past, then Negrao, and then Kaiser within a two-lap period.

While Urrutia was fifth and at least still moderately in play, when he went off on Lap 19 that was the end of his race chances. He needed to pit, and it dropped him to the rear of the field.

Two other title contenders also needed to pit owing to damage, in Felix Serralles and Dean Stoneman. Stoneman made something out of his race by setting fastest race lap but only ended 10th, while Serralles recovered to seventh.

Veach came through to win with a margin of victory of 3.6268 seconds over Jones, who scored his first road course podium since winning the first of two races on the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend back in May.

Negrao, meanwhile, banked his fourth straight podium finish overall. Kaiser was fourth and Neil Alberico a season-best fifth for Carlin.

The result today leaves Urrutia just one point ahead of Jones (319-318), with Stoneman (296), Veach (288), Serralles (281) and Kaiser (279) all with a mathematical possibility and within 40 points going to the final two race weekend doubleheader at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next weekend.

Said Veach, post-race: “I saw an opportunity and I had to take it. I noticed that the inside lane was moving faster at the start so I knew I would be in a good position. When I found myself beside Negrao going into Turn One, I thought I had a chance. I had to get off the corner well and get into Santi’s draft and I did just that.

“We knew how fast Santi was and I wasn’t sure I had the car to match him, so my goal was to get around him and lead as many laps as I could. My pace stayed the same and I saw him dropping off and then disappear, so I had to work on keeping the gap and just keep going.

“It’s so emotional. This is one of my happiest wins. In all my previous wins, we’ve been fast all weekend and here, we had clutch problems in qualifying, then had a starter problem just before the race and we had to come from fifth to win. I pushed hard to build up a gap and I managed my Cooper tires to the end.”

WATCH LIVE: IndyCar practice and qualifying at Laguna Seca

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For the first time in 15 years, Indy cars will be racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and the stakes have never been higher.

Tomorrow’s Grand Prix of Monterey is the final race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, and with four drivers mathematically eligible for the series championship, there will be plenty of story lines to follow.

Current series points leader Josef Newgarden enters this weekend with a 41-point lead over second-place Alexander Rossi.

A California native, Rossi attended his first IndyCar race with his father as child at Laguna Seca when he was three years old.

He now hopes to win his first IndyCar championship at the track where he fell in love with the sport, but after suffering a broken bolt in practice 1 yesterday, he will need to find speed in P3 and qualifying today in order to put himself in the best position to fight for the title.

Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon are also in contention to win the championship this weekend, and another title would only add to their already illustrious IndyCar careers.

Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell will call today’s on-track action from the booth, while Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller will report from the pits.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday 9/21, 1 p.m. ET, IndyCar Practice 3, NBC Sports Gold 

Saturday 9/21, 4:30 p.m. ET, IndyCar Qualifying, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday 9/21, 6 p.m. ET, Indy Lights Race 1, NBC Sports Gold 

 

For sessions on NBC Sports Gold, be sure to have your username and password handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.