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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.

Rinus VeeKay to drive for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020

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Ed Carpenter Racing has signed 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay to drive the full 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, the team announced Wednesday.

VeeKay will drive the No. 21 Chevrolet previously occupied by Spencer Pigot.

“I’m so happy!” the 19-year-old driver from the Netherlands said in a press release. “It’s a dream come true and something we have worked extremely hard for over the last couple of years. To step up from USF2000 to the NTT IndyCar Series in three years is really special.”

In his maiden Indy Lights season this year, VeeKay collected six race victories and seven pole potions. VeeKay previously won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 championship, and finished second in the 2017 USF2000 standings.

VeeKay’s success in the ladder series caught the attention of Carpenter, who gave VeeKay the opportunity to first test for the team at Portland International Raceway in August.

“I have been following Rinus’s path through the Road to Indy, especially the past two years,” Carpenter said. “It was clear to me that he deserves to be in an Indy car. After his first day in a car at Portland this past season, that feeling became even more apparent. His pace, feedback and demeanor inside the car was very impressive for such a young driver.”

As a driver, Carpenter will be VeeKay’s teammate during the five oval races in 2020, once again returning to the team’s No. 20 entry. An announcement on which driver will pilot the No. 20 on the road and street circuits will be made at a later time.

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