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Newgarden not changing strategy due to championship lead

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Josef Newgarden enters the final two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season in somewhat unfamiliar territory. Despite being a championship contender the last two years (he finished seventh in 2015 after entering the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a mathematical shot at the championship, and finished fourth last year), he wasn’t in command of the title picture at any point.

The 2017 season is a different story. On the strength of four wins, including last week’s victory over teammate Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden has vaulted himself 31 points clear of second-place Scott Dixon ahead of the final two races of the season.

Having such a lead might cause some to believe that Newgarden is changing his focus to play “prevent” in the final two races. However, as Newgarden explained in a Friday press conference at Watkins Glen International.

“To me, I think the safest thing is to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Newgarden asserted emphatically.

He explained that 31 points is hardly a comfortable margin, given the manner in which points are distributed and the fact that the season finale in Sonoma is a double-points race, which means he can’t simply go into conservative mode.

“The way I look at it, it’s not a very safe lead, it’s really not,” Newgarden detailed. “Even if you say, ‘Well, okay, (Scott Dixon) is leading the race, we’re second or third, we should just stay put here and get some points’ – if we finish third, I think that closes it up enough to where Scott can be in striking distance at Sonoma, where if he wins the race, he wins the championship.”

Complicating matters further is the fact that all three of Newgarden’s Team Penske teammates are still mathematically alive in the championship, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud especially within striking distance. As a result, none of them may be willing to play second-fiddle in a supporting role.

Conversely, Scott Dixon is the lone representative from Chip Ganassi Racing, meaning it’s possible that teammates Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, and Charlie Kimball could play supporting roles to his championship chase.

And yet, the competitiveness within Team Penske is something Newgarden thrives on. “The best thing about Team Penske is they let us all race each other,” he revealed. “It’s kind of a dream situation. I think it’s awesome that Team Penske’s always done that. They’ve let their drivers race.”

And, unless one of his teammates is mathematically eliminated from title contention, that competitive atmosphere is unlikely to change in the final two races.

“Until there’s a clear situation where there’s nothing to gain for someone else – maybe all to gain for the team, then I think that might flip. But right now there’s no situation for that. I think everyone is still going to push as hard as they can and try and get the most points,” Newgarden finished.

 

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”