Newgarden looking forward to Barber after strong start to 2019

John Cote / IndyCar
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Though it is still early in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Josef Newgarden has already established himself as one of the championship favorites.

Kicking off the season with a win on the streets of St. Petersburg and finishing second in last weekend’s inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas, Newgarden sits at the top of the series point standings heading into next weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park (April 7 at 4:00 PM ET on NBCSN).

“It’s been a pretty smooth start overall this year,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “St. Pete was a big difference. I’ve never been able to have a strong weekend there for one reason or another ever since I’ve started in IndyCar. It’s nice to go there and finally figure that weekend out. I think that always sets a good tone for the rest of the year.”

With that tone set, Newgarden and his Team Penske crew will look to retain and possibly even expand his points lead with a great run at Barber, a track where Newgarden has won three of the last four races.

“[Barber] is definitely a highlight of the schedule for me,” Newgarden said. “I like everywhere we go, but Barber has always been for sure a highlight. A lot of people like going there. It’s a beautiful facility.”

“I don’t know why but I’ve always had a good fortune around that place. Races have always seemed to pan out for us. These IndyCar races are so tricky with the way yellows fall or the way the strategy plays out, or what just seems to happen when dominoes fall into place through the race. It’s just always seemed to work out pretty decently at that track.”

But even with his great start to the season and excellent chance to make it three straight victories at Barber next weekend, Newgarden isn’t taking it easy. With the majority of the schedule still ahead of him and a starting grid stacked with talent from top to bottom, the 28-year-old Tennessean knows that a second championship trophy won’t just fall into his lap.

He captured three victories last season, but despite entering the finale at Sonoma with a mathematical chance to win the title, his lack of consistent podiums diminished any realistic chance he had. With 2019 still young, he has little room for error if he wants to be a title contender come Laguna Seca in September.

“We’ve had a good start which is always positive, but it can change so rapidly, you can’t ever get too confident. You always just have to be prepared for what changes,” Newgarden said. “You have to be on your toes all the way through the season. There’s just no point where you can really take a break or breath. You just gotta be on top of it.”

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Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2