WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – It appeared that the defining moment of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship came last week at Gateway Motorsports Park, when points leader Josef Newgarden made an aggressive pass on the inside of Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud for the lead and eventual win.
However, that moment may have been supplanted during Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, as Newgarden suffered a misfortune that has blown the championship wide open ahead of the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in two weeks.
Exiting the pits after his last scheduled stop, Newgarden locked up the front brakes on the pit exit lane and clouted the armco with the left side of the car. Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais then hit the back of Newgarden in the aftermath, which spread debris on the track and brought out a full-course caution.
Newgarden’s No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet suffered damage to the suspension and the rear bodywork, notably to the rear bumper guards, forcing him back into the pits for repairs.
In the process, Newgarden fell off the lead lap, as the team first changed out the rear bodywork and then went to work repairing the suspension.
In the end, Newgarden finished 18th, two laps off the lead, and saw Scott Dixon, who finished second, slash the championship lead down to three points.
Newgarden accepted all blame for the incident afterward. “Just made a mistake. Hit the wall. Hit the button (to shut off the pit speed limiter) and slid wide,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee.
Newgarden went on to explain that the mistake is surprisingly easy to make, particularly on cold tires. “It looks like a pretty stupid error but it’s easy to do without tire warmers. I made a miscalculation. I got off the button. Obviously pushed wide. Small mistakes added up. It’s tough,” he detailed.
Immediately afterward, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan suffered an identical incident and hit the armco in the same spot as Newgarden. This led some to wonder if there was fluid on the track in that spot. However, Newgarden wasn’t willing to make that leap, even citing that teammate Will Power, directly ahead of him at the time, made it through without incident.
“If there was fluid down, I didn’t know about it. Maybe I was just too wide on the line. Will (Power) was fine,” Newgarden added.
Newgarden now leads Scott Dixon by three points ahead of the championship-deciding race at Sonoma Raceway. Teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, who finished fourth and ninth respectively, also closed the gap, with Castroneves 22 points behind and Pagenaud 34 behind.