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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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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter