Newgarden’s title hopes take hit in Watkins Glen pit road mistake (VIDEO)

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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.

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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.