John Cote / IndyCar

Newgarden looking forward to Barber after strong start to 2019

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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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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.