With one win, two additional podiums and 185 points scored over five races, Josef Newgarden has been the master of street courses for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Traditionally, Newgarden had not been as strong on street courses as he had on permanent road courses and ovals over the previous five years of his career, but a switch to Team Penske from Ed Carpenter Racing has changed that dynamic for the 26-year-old out of Hendersonville, Tenn. native.
Newgarden scored his first career front row start (Long Beach, 2012) and first podium (Baltimore, 2013) with seconds at both races but wasn’t usually the strongest on the street courses.
Among IndyCar’s four current street courses at St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Detroit and Toronto, Newgarden only had two total top-fives on those four heading into 2017 (win at Toronto, 2015, fourth at Detroit race two, 2016) from 26 starts (5 St. Petersburg, 5 Long Beach, 9 Detroit, 7 Toronto). He’d done better at Baltimore and Sao Paulo, both of which dropped off the schedule after 2013.
After winning at Toronto on Sunday in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden admitted the stress that comes with street course racing, knowing the anxiety of strategy and when a yellow might fall. To his benefit, Team Penske president and Newgarden’s race strategist Tim Cindric made the right call Sunday that helped leapfrog Newgarden to the front.
“It’s a street course. Whenever you’re in the lead on a street course, it always feels stressful. It doesn’t feel easy. You’re in the lead, have a good gap, manage it and finish the race. I feel like a street course always brings a bit of stress with the walls and all the variables that you’re always dealing with,” he explained.
“Today there was a little more with the rain. I was concerned about that, how it would throw a wrench into the works. It starts raining when I’m on the wrong end of the track, that wouldn’t be very good.
“There were things that stressed me out for sure. But, you know, it was a fairly straightforward day. I think probably it felt a little bit easier than the first year when I had my first win here and the second win of my career. The more you do it, the more you drive the cars, the easier it all becomes.”
Newgarden’s points haul of 185 from the five races came courtesy of four top-five finishes. Beyond his Toronto win he scored his first Penske podium with third at Long Beach and added fourth and second-place results at Detroit. Only an eighth at St. Petersburg, his best finish there, was he outside the top-five on a street course this year.
Detroit double winner Graham Rahal was second in street course points this year, and probably would have been first had he not been caught out by the yellow in Toronto that jumbled the order. He looked the business at both Detroit and Toronto but had lackluster results of 17th at St. Petersburg and 10th at Long Beach. Neither looked that bad at the time but as the single-car Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing tries to fight for the title, they loom larger.
Scott Dixon was third in the street course standings with James Hinchcliffe fourth, the Long Beach winner also adding two podiums in Detroit and Toronto. Simon Pagenaud was consistent with a podium and four top-fives in the five street races, and ends fifth here.
That Helio Castroneves is as close to the overall championship lead as he is comes courtesy of his results elsewhere. Castroneves was unlucky not to score more in street races this year. He won the pole at Long Beach but had electrical gremlins and penalties drop him back there, while getting shafted from the pole in Detroit put his weekend off kilter there. He scored 126 points on street courses this year, 59 fewer than Newgarden.
Interestingly, street courses have been a major killer for Will Power this year. Outside of third in Detroit race two, Power’s results went for naught in these five races. He had a mechanical issue in St. Petersburg, contact with Charlie Kimball in Long Beach and contact with Dixon in Toronto. Power only scored the 14th most points in the field on street courses this year.
Sebastien Bourdais scored 93 points from just two races with first and second in St. Petersburg and Long Beach. This is more than nine drivers who raced in all five!
Honda won four of the five street course races and was only denied a clean sweep by Newgarden on Sunday in Toronto. But Honda banked 10 podiums on the street courses of a possible 15 – Pagenaud, Newgarden and Power scored Chevrolet’s five podiums this year for Team Penske.
The full street course points tally for 2017 is below, and is interesting to reflect on in the heat of the overall championship battle.