Josef Newgarden retains points lead with fourth at Barber

1 Comment

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.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”