INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

IndyCar Series championship gets more difficult for Rossi, Dixon

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Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon are down, but not out, of the battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship. But as the series heads to Portland International Raceway for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland, their quest has become much more difficult.

Both drivers lost points to championship leader Josef Newgarden in last Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. In Rossi’s case, he also lost a position from second place to third. Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske is now second as he trails his Team Penske teammate Newgarden by 38 points with two races remaining.

Pagenaud, Rossi and Dixon all remain in play for the championship because there remain 150 points available over the last two races in addition to bonus points for the pole and leading the most laps.

First place in 15 of the 17 IndyCar Series races is worth 50 points. However, there are two “double-points” races including the Indianapolis 500 and the season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 22.

The battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship heats up this weekend with the penultimate race of the season at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway in Portland, Ore., as NBC Sports presents coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Pre-race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET.

Rossi finished 13that Gateway and went from 35 points down to 46. Scott Dixon was 52 points behind entering the race but a punctured radiator on the first lap doomed his race. He ran the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda until there was no more water left in his cooling system before bringing the car into the garage for repairs.

He returned to the track to pick up two positions after Will Power crashed on Lap 54 and Spencer Pigot on Lap 133.

Once Dixon completed 136 laps, he could not gain any other positions because of the number of laps left in the race at that time and parked the car. He finished 112 laps behind race winner Takuma Sato.

Dixon is 70 points out and realizes his chance at a title is virtually over, although he remains mathematically alive.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had something silly and small happen like that,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com as he walked from his pit area Saturday night. “It looked like something hit the radiator and cracked it. It looked like it happened on Lap 1 at the start. It’s pretty frustrating.

“It seemed like our car was consistent, though. We started to catch Simon Pagenaud. But the team didn’t tell me until about 60 laps in before they told me about the radiator.

“This could be pretty bad, but what can you do? You can’t do anything about it. We’ve had a pretty good run of recent, but it may have just ended.”

The punctured radiator ended a spectacular streak for Dixon, who beginning with Toronto on July 14 through Pocono on August 18 had four-straight races where he finished second or better. He won the July 28 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

“I feel bad for the whole team,” Dixon said. “All we can do is go for wins, here. We’ve been saying that all along. We’ll put our head down. Had we been able to show the potential of our car, we might have been able to go for a win tonight.”

As for Rossi, his 13th-place finish came when the team had to switch from a fuel conservation strategy, to making a pit stop that would ensure they would make it to the finish in the final portion of the race dropped Rossi from contender to out of the top 10.

By finishing 13th, combined with Newgarden’s seventh, Rossi lost 10 more points in the championship battle with just two races remaining.

“We had a car and drove it up to P3 on pace and that is just the way it works,” Rossi said on pit lane after the race. “It’s the way the yellows fall sometimes. The whole 27 NAPA Andretti Honda team put a fast car together and we were able to get from 11thto third and could run the same pace at Josef, if not Josef.

“It’s unfortunate. The series is difficult. We have two more races to go and we’ll try to get them in Portland.”

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

In the moments leading up to the start of Saturday night’s race, Rossi’s team discovered something was amiss with his No. 27 Honda. A pre-race data check determined the gear stack had an issue.

“If we had gone into the race like that, it wouldn’t have been good, for sure,” Andretti Autosport CEO Rob Edwards said. “But our guys know what they are doing.”

The team hurriedly went to work while the car was on the grid. The gear stack was removed and replaced in just seven minutes.

It all added up to the high drama of the NTT IndyCar Series points race coming down to a dramatic conclusion.

Both drivers admit to being down; but not out.

“This three-week stretch hasn’t started how we would have hoped, but we now have nothing holding us back to collect all the points we can,” Rossi said. “Our mindset has changed a bit from being conservative on our strategy to putting it all out there. We have to get another win in order to head into the season finale with a fighting chance for the Astor Cup. We were very strong last year at Portland and could have potentially won, but an untimely yellow caught us out. We tested the track earlier this month and were fast and able to get some good data under us, so we’re staying optimistic and hoping to come out of Portland with a tighter battle for the NAPA team.”

Although a sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship likely won’t happen for Dixon, he is excited about the prospects for the series after last year’s successful return to Portland International Raceway.

“Overall, I think INDYCAR had a big return last year to the Portland market,” Dixon said. “The race was unpredictable and definitely one to remember in our championship race last year with the PNC Bank team. I love the layout and the fans have shown that they will come out in big numbers. If you looked at the paddock last year it was totally packed.

“I hope we can build on that momentum to continue to race there for many years to come.”

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.”