Newgarden grabs IndyCar points lead with Mid-Ohio win

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Josef Newgarden has captured the victory in the 13th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2017 season, the Honda Indy 200, from the legendary Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The win is his third this season, and makes him the first driver to hit that mark in 2017. It also means he’s won back-to-back races for the first time in his career, in this, his first season with Team Penske.

And additionally, he goes from 23 points down to then-points leader Scott Dixon to take over the championship lead with 453 points with four races remaining, seven up on Helio Castroneves and eight up on Dixon.

Driving the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden led 73 of the 90 laps and made an early pass of teammate Will Power to set sail from there. And despite a late caution, a lapped car made the sailing even clearer from there.

Power was second, and Graham Rahal third on home soil, probably frustrated to not end higher after losing time in the middle stint with traffic.

On the whole, the start of the race was clean although later witnessed Takuma Sato completing an epic save after Graham Rahal tried to pass him at Turn 4.

On Lap 12, Josef Newgarden made an outside, then inside, move of Will Power for the lead – an incredible move – and promptly checked out to the tune of more than 4.6 seconds in the next three laps before pitting for the first time.

Ryan Hunter-Reay spun after racing close with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi on Lap 18, with the incident reviewed by Race Control with no action taken.

All drivers had pitted by Lap 20 for the first time. At this stage, Newgarden led Power, Rahal, Pagenaud and Rossi, with the top three on Firestone’s black primary tires and fourth and fifth place on the red alternates.

Dixon was dropping like a stone in the second stint, losing more than 20 seconds to Newgarden, and pitted from sixth place on Lap 33 – while running just ahead of Castroneves, Sato, Hinchcliffe and Andretti. Putting 2.5 turns of front wing added to the car, the team made quite an adjustment to help improve the handling on the No. 9 NTT Data Honda.

Newgarden was still several seconds clear of Power before his second stop on Lap 40, and switched back from the blacks to sticker reds at that point. Power pitted a lap later, but stuck with blacks for his next stint, as did Rahal who pitted two further laps later.

By Lap 47 on the tire change, Newgarden held a 7.6 second lead over Power on his reds, with Power a bit slower at the start of the stint on the blacks.

Rahal was also frustrated during this stint, stuck behind Carlos Munoz for most of it, waving and gesturing furiously at the flag stand.

The final round of stops occurred through Lap 66 for all bar JR Hildebrand, who was fifth. But a full-course caution flew for Ed Jones spinning and stalling on the exit of Turn 9. This occurred right after a long stop on the right-rear tire.

Newgarden then was left in an awkward position for the restart, as he was on Firestone’s black tires with Power, Rahal and Pagenaud behind him on fresher reds.

But fortunately for him, he had Esteban Gutierrez between him and Power, and the lapped car slowed any hope Power had of making an attempt to get around Newgarden.

That allowed Newgarden to gap the field by several seconds again, and with the tire difference not as pronounced, for all intents and purposes ended the chances of the rest of the field.

Power was left to hold off Rahal, Pagenaud and Sato from there, who completed the top five.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: After the top three, Pagenaud continued his year of consistency with his 10th top-five finish in 13 races, while Sato bounced back for his first top-five since Detroit race two in the Ruoff Home Mortgage-backed Honda for Andretti Autosport. … Conor Daly enjoyed his best complete weekend of the season, making some great moves and ending 10th after starting 11th, the only driver outside the top-10 on the grid to finish in the top-10. … Perhaps needing a quietly good run, Mikhail Aleshin started 21st, and improved to 14th in his return to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Dale Coyne Racing had a nightmare day with Gutierrez losing time on his first stop, then going under the microscope following the last restart, while Ed Jones’ rough run of results continued with a right rear tire issue on a pit stop, then a spin on track. They ended 20th and 21st. … JR Hildebrand was also unlucky with a likely top-10, possible top-five, lost on the Jones caution when he stayed out longer and then had to pit. Having to serve a drive-through for taking service in a closed pit, he ended an unrepresentative 17th. … In 13th, 15th and 16th, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan had anonymous days for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NOTABLE: Newgarden’s win was the sixth of his career, all with Chevrolet power. … This marks a sweep for him of all three Honda-sponsored races in 2017 at Barber, Toronto and now Mid-Ohio. … It also extends the streak for Chevrolets in Honda-sponsored events to six straight, although Honda swept the Chevrolet-sponsored Detroit doubleheader. … While Rahal swept both Detroit races this year, Newgarden is the first driver to win back-to-back races at different tracks this year.

QUOTABLE: Newgarden, on the victory and how this one more than Barber and Toronto was more authoritative all weekend: “I feel like no one can take anything away from this win. With this team on the 2 car side, I feel like we really did a great job today. There was no luck involved in that. We went out and won the race. So no one can take anything away from those guys and the 2 car.”

RESULTS

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Results Sunday of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
3. (4) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
4. (7) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (3) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
6. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 90, Running
7. (5) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
8. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
9. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 90, Running
10. (11) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 90, Running
11. (8) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
12. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running
13. (13) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 90, Running
14. (21) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 90, Running
15. (18) Max Chilton, Honda, 90, Running
16. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 90, Running
17. (19) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 90, Running
18. (20) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 89, Running
19. (16) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 89, Running
20. (12) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 89, Running
21. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 88, Running

Race Statistics
Winners average speed:  114.677 mph
Time of Race: 01:46:19.5989
Margin of victory: 5.1556 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 4 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Power 1-12
Newgarden 13-17
Rahal 18
Newgarden 19-39
Power 40
Rahal 41-42
Newgarden 43-65
Power 66
Newgarden 67-90

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 453, Castroneves 446, Dixon 445, Pagenaud 436, Power 401, Rahal 395, Sato 381, Rossi 358, Kanaan 320, Hinchcliffe 316.

2016 Knoxville Nationals champ Jason Johnson succumbs to injuries from sprint car crash

Photo courtesy Jason Johnson Racing official Facebook page
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Former Knoxville Nationals champion sprint car driver Jason Johnson has died from injuries suffered in a crash Saturday night in a World of Outlaws race at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway).

Known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his aggressive style of racing, Johnson, 41, passed away this morning, according to an announcement by WoO. He was one of the most respected and well-liked drivers on the circuit by both fellow competitors and fans.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson, a Eunice, Louisiana resident, was racing for the lead in the main event on the one-third-mile clay track with eventual race winner Daryn Pitman, when Johnson crashed on Lap 18 shortly after a restart.

Johnson’s car left the track surface in Turn 3 and flew through at least one billboard adjacent to the racetrack, according to media and witness reports.

It took rescue workers several minutes to extricate Johnson, who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit, Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

How many will remember Johnson:

Johnson, who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals – the sport’s biggest race – in Iowa in storybook fashion, had been a primarily part-time racer on various sprint car circuits from 1998 until he went full-time on the Outlaws series, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.

MORE: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

Johnson had 12 wins on the Outlaws circuit, including two victories this season.

The Journal Sentinel also posted a statement from SLS Promotions, which promoted Saturday’s race:

“Everyone at SLS Promotions offers our deepest, most sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bobbi Johnson (Jason’s wife), Jaxx Johnson (the couple’s son) and the entire Johnson family and JJR Racing team.

“Jason was a great competitor and true ambassador for the sport. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him during his time on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series trail. Jason will never be forgotten”

Other notables also commented on his death on social media:

According to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson is the second driver in four years to die at the small track northwest of Milwaukee. In September 2014, Scott Semmelann, 47, was killed there while practicing for an Interstate Racing Association event.

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