Josef Newgarden clinches title; Colton Herta wins finale

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Josef Newgarden clinched his second championship, and Colton Herta scored his second career victory as the NTT IndyCar Series wrapped up its 2019 season Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway.

Newgarden started fourth and finished a nondescript eighth in a fairly uneventful day for the Team Penske driver. The No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet faced little trouble aside from a Lap 16 battle for position with fellow championship contender Alexander Rossi (Newgarden backed off rather than force the issue under breaking heading up the hill to Turn 8).

A lap later, teammate Simon Pagenaud went by Newgarden, who settled into a quiet race to clinch Team Penske’s 16th championship and third in the past four seasons.

Newgarden, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg in March and led the standings after all but one race this season, also won the title in 2017 for Penske, which has 35 titles overall.

An emotional Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider that he cried on the final lap.

“I thought we were throwing it away; (the team) just did such a good job,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t want to throw it away at the end and do something silly. I tried to be as smart as I could today. To win championships is as much as you can ask for; we have such a great group. I’m so happy it’s over.”

“The whole Team Penske just has done an outstanding job this year,” team owner Roger Penske told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “He held up. He had some butterflies this morning, but he’s a real pro and a great driver.”

Pagenaud (fourth), who delivered the 18th Indianapolis 500 win to Penske in May, finished runner-up in the championship standings. Rossi (sixth) took third in points ahead of Scott Dixon, who finished third in the race behind Herta and Will Power.

Herta, who already had a newsworthy weekend, started from the pole and was rarely challenged in leading 83 of 90 laps with his No. 88 Dallara-Honda. The 19-year-old rookie joined his father, Bryan, as a winner at the famed 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course that was playing host to Indy cars for the first time in 15 years.

“Everything just went so smooth today, just throughout the whole season, we’ve been learning really well,” said Herta, who also won the inaugural race in March at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

Colton Herta still came up short in the Rookie of the Year battle to Felix Rosenqvist, who put on an impressive drive from 14th to fifth after a penalty in qualifying.

The race was largely incident-free, featuring only one midrace caution flag for a spin by Conor Daly.

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.