Alexander Rossi back into second for IndyCar Series championship with one race left

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PORTLAND, Oregon – It’s down to the NTT IndyCar Series points race that everyone has wanted to see all season – Josef Newgarden of Team Penske against Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport with just one race remaining.

Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion at Team Penske, has a 41-point lead over Rossi, who moved back to second place in the standings with a third-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland. Team Penske driver Will Power won that race with Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing second.

“It’s great with two Americans still fighting for it,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But Simon Pagenaud is only one point behind, and Scott Dixon is still mathematically alive, so there are still four guys in it, and you can’t discount the other two.”

Pagenaud, this year’s winner of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, is just one point behind Rossi, setting up a three-driver battle heading into the season’s final race at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 22.

Newgarden started 13thand fought his way back to a fifth-place finish. It was the second time in the last three races Newgarden had finished fifth. He was seventh last week in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.

In spite of missing the podium for the fourth-straight race, Newgarden’s lead in the NTT IndyCar Series championship has remained firm as other drivers battling for the title have made mistakes.

2019 Portland GP at Portland International Raceway

“It’s disappointing because we were on the podium from seventh and Josef finishes fifth,” Rossi said. “It’s a credit to Team Penske but it’s hard when you start seventh, get on the podium and Josef finishes fifth.

“Now, we just have to win Laguna Seca. None of us have any preconceived notions about what it will be the team that can adapt the most through Thursday and Friday, honestly if you put it on pole, you can still win the championship because it’s so hard to pass there. Qualifying could be the deciding factor.

“I’m closer right now than that I was yesterday and that’s fine. With the double points, we saw what happened in 2015. You have to go in and win. If we do that; we might be all right.”

Rossi believes he still has a good shot at the championship, 41 points back, with double points paid for the final race of the season.

“Ultimately, it wasn’t an awesome day for us, but it was still genuinely good for us when you look at where we finished compared to the others,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “Regardless, it’s great to be on the podium from seventh. Ultimately, we didn’t have the pace of the front two, which was disappointing.”

Rossi was able to avoid a near-incident involving his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey.

“There was never a time I was concerned,” Rossi said.

 

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.