Josef Newgarden admits he learned championship lesson with Mid-Ohio spinoff

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MOORESVILLE, North Carolina – It can be hard for any professional athlete, including race drivers, to admit making a mistake. But in Josef Newgarden’s case, he admits he learned a valuable lesson in his last-lap spinoff in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 25.

Newgarden was on his way to a fourth-place finish on the final lap when he saw an opening in the Turn 2 “Keyhole” section of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He thought he could pass Ryan Hunter-Reay for third place on the final lap and increase his points lead over Alexander Rossi.

Instead, the Team Penske driver misjudged the move, bounced off Hunter-Reay and spun off the race course, stalling his No. 2 Chevrolet IndyCar. Instead of padding his lead in the NTT IndyCar Series standings with a four-place finish, Newgarden lost points with his 14th-place finish.

Since that time, Newgarden has played it safe with finishes of fifth at Pocono after starting on the pole, seventh at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway after starting on the pole and fifth at Portland after starting 13th.

He has widened the points lead from 16 points over Rossi after Mid-Ohio to 41 points entering the September 22 season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca – a race that pays double points.

Prior to his spinout at Mid-Ohio, Newgarden was coming off a fantastic stretch of racing that began with a win at Texas, a third at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin in June, a fourth place at Toronto and a win at Iowa in July before closing out that month with his mistake at Mid-Ohio.

Lesson learned?

“Oh, for sure,” Newgarden said Thursday when posed that question by NBC Sports.com “I’ve been known to have my moments in the car. Mid-Ohio was definitely one of them.

“The problem is I just can’t help myself sometimes. My nature is to always go for a higher position. I’ve had to work on pulling myself back. I think I’ve learned how to do that in a lot of ways over the last couple years. I’ve been able to do that. I feel confident that my approach can be good.

“But you can see how quickly decision making can turn from a potential positive to a really big negative. That’s what it’s like in the top level of racing. It can go from good to bad really quick. I think that’s what makes it entertaining and exciting.

“That’s what makes it thrilling, when you get it right.”

Newgarden hopes to get it right when the season concludes next week at Laguna Seca. There will be a full day of testing on Thursday with practice for the race on Friday, qualifications on Saturday and the race on Sunday, September 22.

That race will be televised by NBC.

Because only four drivers have ever driven an IndyCar at the 2.258-mile, 11-turn road course, it has the potential to create additional drama to this year’s championship.

“Honestly, I don’t even know. I really, really don’t,” Newgarden said. “Because tracks that we’ve said historically you can’t pass well on, we’ve kind of changed that notion in IndyCar. There’s just a lot of places that historically maybe they weren’t good passing place, then they become it.

“I don’t think we have a good idea of how Laguna is going to race yet, what the tire degradation is going to be like, is qualifying going to be the name of the game for the weekend or not. It’s hard to tell.

“I think qualifying is going to be an important part of the weekend, without a doubt. It’s always better to start up front, to get yourself out of harm’s way hopefully, not get yourself into trouble at the very beginning.

“Will it be the make-or-break of the weekend? I just don’t know. If we qualify up front, I hope it’s that way. If we qualify in the back, I hope it’s not that way. We’re all going to get an education for sure next weekend and find out how Laguna Seca is in 2019.”

A 41-point lead with one race to go may appear safe but throw in the double-points factor and that means it’s really a 20.5-points lead using the regular scoring system.

Translation – Newgarden must finish fourth or higher in order to clinch the championship and in today’s NTT IndyCar Series, that can be a difficult challenge.

“I think we’re in the favorable position, for sure,” Newgarden said. “With double points, I’ve tried to make everyone aware all the way along that it’s far from being over, that it’s always going to be a difficult race in Laguna with a double-point situation. That’s where we find ourselves. We’re in the better position. We definitely have a little bit of a comfort, but nothing that you can feel too comfortable about.

“We still have to perform really well. Finishing fourth or higher in an IndyCar race, to guarantee the championship, is not really an easy task. I mean, it’s difficult to run in the top five in the IndyCar Series week in and week out.

“To come to kind of a wild card event out at Laguna Seca where we don’t have a lot of knowledge, we specifically, I don’t have a lot of knowledge with the track. I think a lot of guys going in that have never raced there, they don’t either. It’s going to create a lot of unknowns. I think it’s still a difficult task for us to make sure we hit everything right and have a solid weekend.

“I feel like we have the right people in our corner. We just need to make sure that we go and execute now.”

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

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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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.”