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Take a ride around Sonoma Raceway with defending IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden

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Josef Newgarden has just one item on his agenda for Sunday’s season-ending and championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

“We have to win the race to have any hope of winning the championship again,” the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk. “Win, that’s all, that’s everything on Sunday.”

While Newgarden said his normal race strategy will remain the same, the biggest key is to be aggressive, proactive and take chances if the opportunity exists without bringing his day — and championship hopes — to a premature ending.

He also has to hope Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi (29 points behind Dixon and 58 points ahead of Newgarden and teammate Will Power) have early troubles or poor overall finishes.

The other key, Newgarden said, will be tire degradation, one of his biggest concerns.

“The tire degradation is going to be big,” he noted. “With this year’s new aero package, we’re about 20 to 25 percent down on downforce, which means the tires are going to go away a lot quicker.

“When we did our test here last week, we really saw how bad the tire degradation was. That is going to figure into our strategy, like whether to make it a four- or three-stop (pit stops) race.”

Here’s a video of Newgarden taking a couple of hot laps around the twisting 12-turn, 2.52-mile permanent road course to give you a feel for the challenges he and more than two dozen other drivers will face in Sunday’s race.

Wickens undergoes successful surgery

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Just days after successfully piloting an Acura NSX around Toronto’s Exhibition Palace street course, Robert Wickens has undergone a successful surgery operation to remove hardware from his leg after a previous infection had returned, the 30-year-old Canadian revealed on social media Wednesday.

“Spinal Cord injury has such highs and lows,” Wickens said in an Instagram post prior to surgery. “One day I’m in the NSX driving the hand controlled car, and the next day I’m getting ready for surgery. Life is so unpredictable!”

Fortunately, the surgery went well for Wickens, as he later announced that his surgery had no complications. Wickens will now start six weeks of IV antibiotics before he returns to a full rehab program.

“One piece (there’s a lot) of the hardware had an infected screw,” Wickens wrote. “All hardware in my leg was removed.”

Wickens is currently recovering from spinal fracture sustained in an IndyCar crash at Pocono Raceway last August. Since his crash and diagnosis, Wickens has openly documented his recovery process through social media.

Wickens returned to the INDYCAR paddock for the first time since his accident at the season-opener in St. Petersburg in March, and his laps behind the wheel in Toronto last weekend marked the first time he had driven in public since his accident.

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