Josef Newgarden retains points lead with fourth at Barber

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Josef Newgarden started deep in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama field, but a yeoman’s performance allowed him to retain his points lead with a fourth-place finish.

In nine previous IndyCar races at Barber Motorsports Park, three drivers have won races in pairs. Newgarden entered the weekend with an opportunity to be the first to win three straight at this track, but as soon as qualification was in the books, he knew he had a steep hill to climb.

None of the previous nine editions of this race had ever been won from outside the top 10. Only two drivers where successful from further back than Row 3, which put a lot of emphasis on making the Fast Six.

Failing to make the Round of 12, Newgarden did not even come close with a 16th-place effort. For that matter, none of the Team Penske drivers cracked the Fast Six for the first time since Long Beach in 2014. Will Power came closest with a seventh. Simon Pagenaud qualified 14th.

Newgarden finally found a little speed in the morning warmup, posting up third behind Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi. But it would take all day for Newgarden to challenge the leaders.

With the clock running out, Newgarden was forced to ramp up his aggression to advance through traffic. In the closing laps, he sliced to the inside of Rossi under heavy braking to make the pass for fourth.

“I told (Rossi), hey sorry for shoving you a little bit out – honestly a little bit more than I wanted to,” Newgarden said on NBCSN after the race. “When we got into the corner when I had such a good run, he braked a little deeper than I thought he would and I locked the right front, which sent me into him more than I liked.”

Newgarden failed in his attempt to win three consecutive races and get a fifth consecutive podium finish at Barber, but he was pleased with the fourth-place finish.

“I think it was about what we could hope for today (after) starting 16th. It’s as simple as that; you have to start up higher if you want to do better.”

Josef Newgarden had to battle his way through traffic at Barber Motorsports Park after qualifying 16th. (IndyCar, Matt Fraver)

Newgarden’s 2017 championship came with four wins and nine podium finishes. To date, it has been the best performance in a seven-year career – not just for the championship, but in regard to his total wins and consistency.

This year began even better. Newgarden won the season-opening race at St. Petersburg and finished second last week at Circuit of the Americas. In 2017, his first two races ended eighth at St. Petersburg and third at Long Beach before he earned the win at Barber.

Winning a championship is often about minimizing the damage on difficult days.

“We did what we could this weekend,” Newgarden continued. “It started without a lot of laps. Friday and Saturday, we couldn’t get many laps because there were so many cautions; so many red flags. Didn’t get a rhythm.

“I just felt like our car was too inconsistent this weekend. We’ve been talking about it. We’re trying to figure out why that is the case. I think we got it a little bit closer in the race, but it’s still not where we need to be.”

Newgarden’s fourth-place finish allowed him to extend his points lead to 27 points over second-place Scott Dixon. Newgarden entered the weekend with an 18-point advantage over rookie Colton Herta.

Long Beach will be another hill for Newgarden to climb. In seven starts there, he has scored only one top-five finish and has led just four laps. His career best finish of third came in his 2017 championship season. The remainder of his results ended seventh or worse.

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Rolex 24 update: Scott Dixon leads eight hours in

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We’re just past the eight hour mark in the 2020 edition of the Rolex 24, and darkness has descended over the Daytona International Speedway.

Scott Dixon is the current overall leader, while Harry Tincknell runs in the second position.

As of 10:15 pm ET, the leaders are:

DPi:

  1. No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing, Cadillac DPi, Scott Dixon
  2. No. 55 Mazda Team Joest, Mazda DPi, Harry Tincknell
  3. No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi, Felipe Nasr

LMP2:

  1. No. 81 Dragonspeed USA, ORECA LMP2 07, Ben Hanley
  2. No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, ORECA LMP2 07, Simon Trummer
  3. No. 8 Tower MotorSport by Starworks, ORECA LMP2 07, David Heinemeier Hansson

GTLM:

  1. No. 912 Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR-19, Earl Bamber
  2. No. 24 BMW Rahal Letterman Lanigan, BMW M8 GTE, Augusto Farfus
  3. No. 911 Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR-19, Fred Makowiecki

GTD:

  1. No. 48 Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Madison Snow
  2. No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R, Zacharie Robichon
  3. No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan, Lexus RC F GT3, Frankie Montecalvo

Live coverage of the Rolex 24 at Daytona will return to NBCSN at 11 p.m. ET. Fans can also watch all remaining coverage on NBC Sports Gold’s Trackpass.