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Championship battle could tighten at Budds Creek

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Just when it seemed inevitable that Eli Tomac would not only win the 2019 championship, but that he would do so before the final race, the two-time defending champion rode to one of his worst finishes of the year last week in the Unadilla MX Nationals. He has another opportunity to gain enough points this week to allow him to rest completely easy in the finale as the series heads into its penultimate venue at Budds Creek.

Finishing seventh in Moto 1, Tomac matched his worst performance of the season from WW Ranch this June while his principal rival for the championship finished second. Marvin Musquin briefly saw a window of opportunity open with that runner-up finish, but when he looked over his shoulder in Moto 2, Tomac was threatening once again to climb through. In Moto 2, Musquin finished second; Tomac was third.

That has been Tomac’s trademark all season. He never has two bad races in an event and with eight moto wins, he has controlled the pace of the championship.

Tomac will enter Budds Creek with a 40-point advantage over Musquin and given the strength of the Frenchman during the past six weeks, it seems unlikely that he will gain the 10 markers over his rival needed to be crowned champion. Still, the title is Tomac’s for the taking – unless he finishes poorly in both motos this week.

Tomac is the defending winner of last year’s race on this track.

If Tomac can win this week, he will become only the fifth rider to win more than one premier class race on this track, joining superstars Ricky Carmichael (with eight wins), Ryan Dungey (four), Jeremy McGrath and Chad Reed (two each).

The winner of this race has gone on to take the title more than two-thirds of the time (68%). Kawasaki riders have five total victories at Budds Creek and each time they have gone on to win the championship.

First time winners have showcased the 250 class for the past three seasons. Zach Osborne won in 2016, Adam Cianciarulo in 2017 and RJ Hampshire last year. And while Budds Creek has been predictive of who will win the championship in the 450 class, the last time that occurred in this division was in 2012 when Blake Baggett performed the feat.

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Schedule:

Qualifiers: 9:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
Race: Live, 12 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold, Moto 2 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold, (Moto 2, re-airs at 3 p.m. on NBC).

August 10 – 2019; Unadilla

450: Ken Roczen (1-1) won over Marvin Musquin (2-2) and Zach Osborne (4-4)
250: Dylan Ferrandis (2-1) won over Adam Cianciarulo (1-2) and Chase Sexton (3-3)

August 18 – 2018; Budds Creek 

450: Eli Tomac (3-1) won over Ken Roczen (1-3) and Marvin Musquin (2-4)
250: RJ Hampshire (2-1) won over Chase Sexton (7-2) and Aaron Plessinger (1-11)

Overall Wins

450:
[4] Eli Tomac (Pala, High Point, RedBud, Washougal)
[3] Ken Roczen (Hangtown, Thunder Valley, Unadilla)
[2] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch, Southwick)
[1] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek)

250:
[6] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown, Pala, Thunder Valley, High Point, Southwick, Spring Creek)
[3] Dylan Ferrandis (RedBud, Washougal, Unadilla)
[1] Justin Cooper (WW Ranch)

Moto Wins

450:
[8] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch I, RedBud I, Washougal I & II)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[3] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, Southwick I, RedBud II)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (Southwick II)

250:
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley II, High Point II, Southwick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla II)
[7] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, Southwick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla I)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

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Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”