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Tracy hails Newgarden’s integration, title push with Team Penske

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Like in his driving career, Paul Tracy isn’t afraid to give the verbal “chrome horn” during his NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series commentary if it’s needed. Watkins Glen, after all, was the site of Tracy’s famous one-liner last year that if Marco Andretti didn’t have a ride at Andretti Autosport, “his only other option was Uber.”

But he’s not afraid to bestow praise when it’s deserved, either.

Tracy’s tenure with Team Penske in the 1990s was a case of being a promising, talented young driver making his way against the establishment – in his case Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi as teammates – and not being afraid to rough it up if needed.

1 Mar 1996: Paul Tracy of Canada waits to go out on the track in his Penske PC25 Mercedes-Benz IC108C during practice for the IndyCar Miami Grand Prix at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in Homestead, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondea

Enter Josef Newgarden, who with his pass for the win last Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park on teammate Simon Pagenaud, may well enter Penske lore as a series champion following his most decisive pass for the lead yet in IndyCar, against an established teammate.

The Gateway pass, occurring at more than 180 mph into Turn 1 of an oval, stands out even more than his pass on Will Power for the lead at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which Tracy’s fellow NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell called “legendary” on that broadcast.

“For sure it was a risky pass that Newgarden took. But the door was open, and it was barely enough to get through, and Newgarden said, ‘Okay, the door is cracked open just enough for me to get through, I’ll kick it open the rest of the way,’ and I don’t think Pagenaud liked that very well,” Tracy told reporters on a conference call previewing this weekend’s NBCSN motorsports tripleheader from Monza (7 a.m. ET), Watkins Glen (1 p.m. ET) and Darlington (6 p.m. ET).

“He felt he had the move covered. He was frustrated after the race, and frankly he kind of gave the race away. He could have closed the door down a little bit more, but he left it just enough open for Newgarden to come through.”

Tracy said Newgarden, now in his sixth season in the championship, has fulfilled the potential evident in his early years – and he knew he had his eye on him from as early as his rookie season, when a passing attempt for the lead on Dario Franchitti went awry at Long Beach in 2012.

“He’s not new to the series. He’s been around for four or five years now, and when he first came in to the series with Sarah Fisher, I knew right away just watching him on track that he was a tremendous talent,” Tracy said.

“He had a lot of talent, a lot of speed. He was brave, and I had said a couple years ago when he was driving for Fisher and the team was folding — about to go on the brink of folding up (eventually merged with Ed Carpenter Racing for one season to form CFH Racing, then reverted back to ECR in 2016 -Ed.), I said, you know, publicly in an interview that somebody like Penske or Ganassi needs to give this kid a chance because he’s the real deal, and it didn’t happen at that point, and he got picked up by Ed Carpenter, and he obviously had a great couple years with him, and then really started to kind of come into his own in terms of the speed and got some wins last year.”

Considering the number of drivers that have passed through Team Penske’s halls, what followed next from Tracy was really high praise, following a meeting he, Bell and Kevin Lee had with Roger Penske pre-race last week at Gateway.

“I said to Roger, I said, ‘This kid is like — he’s the whole deal. He’s American, he’s good-looking, he’s fast, he’s brave as hell, he gets all the sponsors in, he goes to all the sponsor events and loves doing it.’

“He moved down to the shop. He’s in the shop every day with the guys. He’s with his engineers at dinner. He’s everything that you would want as a driver, and Roger completely agreed with me.

“He goes, ‘I haven’t had a guy in a long time that has integrated himself into our team as quickly as Josef has done in six months.’”

High praise indeed. Pagenaud backtracked earlier Thursday at a media luncheon when he sought to downplay any tension. Tracy, who spoke to Newgarden earlier this week, said he’s past it and Pagenaud needs to do the same if he is to retain his championship crown – or risk losing it to his new teammate, the points leader, in his first year at Team Penske.

“I think having looked at it in hindsight and having spoken to Newgarden this week, I had a conversation with him, and you know, they had a little bit of a — not an argument but a disagreement after the race, and he was reminded of the fact that he pulled the same kind of move on Power at Mid-Ohio the year before and hit him wheel-to-wheel and pushed him off the track for the win in the closing laps of Mid-Ohio. So he kind of had selective memory of some moves he made,” Tracy said.

“So I think having thought about it now for a week, he’s probably over it, and he knows he needs to win the next two races if he’s going to win the championship, and you’ve got to move on.”

Todd LeDuc advances two positions in Monster Jam Power Rankings

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Neil Elliott held onto the top spot in the Monster Jam Power Rankings, but he has a new driver sniffing his exhaust as Todd Leduc advanced two positions to second this week.

The Stadium Series Green continues to hold the advantage in the Power Rankings with Elliott topping the chart, Morgan Kane in fourth, and Ryan Anderson eighth, but there is an equitable distribution among the other series throughout the field.

Notably, Leduc and his Monster Energy truck in the Stadium Series Red closed the gap with a 38-point overall victory at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. Leduc achieved his win through consistency, pocketing the overall without winning a single individual event. Leduc’s best session was a second-place finish to Mike Vaters II in Overkill Evolution by .001 points.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Elliott rambled on. Elliott won his sixth skills challenge in seven contests so far. That contributed to his 35 points for the event at PETCO Park in San Diego and allowed him to hold onto the No. 1 slot in the Monster Jam Power Rankings.

Colton Eichelberger also held station. Third last week, he entered the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on a mission in the Triple Threat Series Central. He topped the event points in all four events with timed race wins in each session, ATV race wins in three of the four, three wins in the speedster obstacle course, two freestyle wins and one win in the donut competitions.

MORE: Ryan Anderson and the anatomy of a Monster Jam freestyle run

Morgan Kane and Grave Digger had a rough night. He was ousted from the racing event in Round 2 by Max-D and Elliott. He failed to win either of the other two competitions of the night and ended with 29 points, which was a distant third to Ryan Anderson’s Son-Uva Digger (37) and Max-D (35).

Brandon Vinson moved up to the fifth position with three wins in the Triple Threat Series West. During the weekend he earned seven session wins, including a sweep of the speedster obstacle course and two victories in the two-wheel skills challenge.

Tom Meents debuted on the Monster Jam Power Rankings in 10th by winning the overall in back to back nights of the Stadium Series Yellow. The Saturday show can be seen Feb. 22 at 11:30 p.m. on NBCSN (click here for streaming). The highlight of Meents’ weekend were race wins on Saturday and Sunday, defeating Coty Saucier in a Monster Energy truck on Night 1 and Eric Swanson in Obsessed on Night 2.

Power Rankings

1. Neil Elliott–same
2. Todd LeDuc–up 2
3. Colton Eichelberger-same
4. Morgan Kane–down 2
5. Brandon Vinson–up 1
6. Tyler Menninga–up 1
7. Coty Saucier–down 2
8. Ryan Anderson–same
9. Linsey Read–up 1
10. Tom Meents-new for 2020

Upcoming TV Schedule (All showings on Eastern time on NBCSN)

Oakland: February 22 (Saturday); 11:30 p.m.
Miami: March 1 (Sunday); 12 a.m.
Jacksonville: March 9 (Monday); 6 p.m.
Detroit: March 21 (Saturday); 11 p.m.
Las Vegas: March 28 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Santa Clara: April 11 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Philadelphia: April 17 (Friday); 2:30 p.m.
Denver: April 25 (Saturday); 6:30 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals Racing: May 9 (Saturday); 5 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: May 19 (Tuesday); 4 p.m.
Monster Jam World Freestyle: May 20 (Wednesday); 12 a.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: June 20 (Saturday); 2:30 p.m.