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Newgarden, Dixon just miss out on Watkins Glen pole

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – In the final minutes of Firestone Fast Six qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series, both Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon appeared destined to score poles for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

First off, Newgarden was on his last run and looked set to turn the fastest lap of the session at that time. And while he did momentarily set the fastest lap, he ultimately left time on the table as he went a little wide exiting Turn 9 and dipped his wheels onto the grass, kicking up a big cloud of dust in the process.

He explained in the post-qualifying press conference that it ultimately cost him at least a couple tenths of a second, which would have made the difference in him securing the pole.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really had to say this much, but I think I messed up a pole run, to be honest with you,” Newgarden revealed. “I lost two or three tenths in the final corner. I don’t remember ever having to say that.”

Newgarden added that he overshot Turn 9 as a result of thinking he needed to charge through the corner in order jump over Dixon and the other Honda drivers.

“(The lap) was like projected at an 82.2 (seconds) going into Turn 9. If we want to beat Dixon, I’ve got to get everything out of (Turn 9) as well. I just deuced it, totally messed it up, lost a couple tenths. Great lap time, good starting position for us. I feel so silly for messing up what could have been a pole position.”

Like Newgarden, Scott Dixon felt like he left a pole on the table. Immediately after Newgarden’s aforementioned run, Dixon clocked in with a lap of 1:22.5168. In comparison to Newgarden’s lap (a 1:22.5169), the difference between the two was one ten-thousandth of a second, the smallest margin possible under IndyCar’s scoring system.

Scott Dixon appeared set to score the pole before Alexander Rossi took it from him with the last run of the day. Photo: IndyCar

However, on his next lap, Dixon came up on a slowing Helio Castroneves, delaying his run enough to force him to abort. Unable to get his Firestone black tires up to temperature after that, Dixon could not turn a faster lap, and ultimately had to settle for second when Alexander Rossi swooped in to take the pole with the last run of the session.

Although starting on the front row is a solid result on the surface, Dixon couldn’t help but be disappointed to miss out on the pole.

“The frustrating part is that we had plenty in hand,” Dixon lamented. “The problem is if you cool off (the tires) too much, it’s really hard to get back up to speed. We caught Helio so quickly – I don’t know what he was doing out there, he was just sort of cruising around. We caught him way too fast with two laps to go.”

Dixon added that he believed the car had plenty of speed in it to take the pole had he been able to get a cleaner run, as evidenced during Round 2 of qualifying, when he set a lap record with a lap time of 1:22.4171.

“I think we had probably another three or four tenths in the car. Definitely frustrating to lose it that way. We showed that speed definitely in Q2.”

The result ultimately proves critical in the championship chase, in which Newgarden leads Dixon by 31 points entering Sunday’s race, as neither driver was able to score a vital championship for the pole.

Newgarden, given that the events of qualifying prevented Dixon from securing that championship point, expressed a small amount of relief in considering that.

“Every point counts, so for sure I think it helps. It’s small, small little detail. But it adds up,” said Newgarden.

Dixon will flank pole sitter Alexander Rossi on the front row, while Newgarden will start third for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.