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.

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.