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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.