Defending series champion Josef Newgarden kept his slim title hopes alive in the NTT IndyCar Series with a victory Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Newgarden seized first after the final green-flag pit stop sequence with 43 laps remaining after teammate Will Power lost the lead while caught in slower traffic entering the pits.
After beating Pato O’Ward out of the pits on his final stop on Lap 151, Newgarden cycled into the lead on Lap 157 of 200 and led the final 44 laps in his No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet.
STATS REPORT: Results and points after the second race at Gateway
WHAT THEY SAID: Postrace driver quotes from Gateway
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 30, 2020
“This was all a pit stop victory for me,” Newgarden told NBCSN pit reporter Kevin Lee. “My guys have been amazing in the pits. They’ve put me in position every time. It was really fun racing Pato out of the pit. That was for the win side by side out of pit exit. HE did an amazing job. He’s going to do great things in this sport.
“It was just all down to my team. I’m really proud of my team. They won the race. I didn’t win it; they won it.”
O’Ward finished second after placing third Saturday at Gateway and remained a solid third in the points standings behind Scott Dixon and Newgarden.
“Man, we had a great weekend,” said O’Ward, who led 36 laps and matched a career-best runner-up at Road America last month. “Our objective was to score two podiums (this weekend), and we did that. It would have been great to score a win. I know we’re so close. We’re knocking on the door, man. We’re going to keep pushing.”
Said Power, who remained winless this season but led 40 laps and finished third to deliver a Chevrolet sweep of the podium: “I felt we had the car to win. Obviously it’s a traffic game. The car was really strong today. We had great stops. Great car. The strategy certainly didn’t work out at the end. Still very happy to get a podium. We certainly have had a lot of potential this year. Very strange year.”
It was the 16th career victory and second this season for Newgarden, who also won last month at Iowa Speedway. It’s also the Team Penske driver’s second triumph at Gateway, where he won in 2017.
With five races expected to be remaining this season, Newgarden still faces a 96-point deficit (which is the equivalent of nearly two maximum points races) to Dixon, whose No. 9 Dallara-Honda was fifth Sunday and has won four of the season’s first nine races (including Saturday at Gateway).
The two-time series champion had lost 33 points to Dixon with a 12th in Saturday’s race but regained 21 points Sunday.
“We can’t give up on it yet,” Newgarden said. “Yesterday was a pretty big blow. We’ve been bitten by bad luck this year, and the yellows have gone against us probably three or four out of eight races.
“Sometimes it comes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s racing. You have to hopefully get on a good cycle, and maybe this will be a good kick-start for the end of the season for us.”
The race ended under caution when Takuma Sato, who started on pole and led a race-high 66 laps, hit the wall while running in the top 10 with three laps remaining (the two-time Indy 500 winner still finished ninth).
Rookie Rinus VeeKay took fourth after starting 18th but was confronted afterward by sixth-place finisher Colton Herta about an aggressive pass late in the race.
“The race pace was great, and I had a really good first lap got by a lot of guys on the outside, and then amazing strategy after the first lap,” VeeKay said. “At the end, I got a little close with Colton. It’s tough. It’s really hard to pass here, and it was really my only chance to pass Colton.”
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 30, 2020
Said Herta, who saved his car after a big wiggle: “It’s just too aggressive. I know he’s a rookie. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s made this mistake numerous times before, and I don’t really have too much fun driving against him.
“But that’s the way it is sometimes. I gave him all the opportunity to go to the inside. He took the outside, took me up in the gray for some reason. I don’t know. And then he just chops the hell out of me there.
“I just told him it’s too much to be doing that. You could have put me in the wall and to see the officials don’t take a stand on it. There’s no penalty. I guess I can understand that a little bit, but I can be in the same position now for me. I can shove anyone I want in the gray and toss anyone in the wall, and there’s not going to be any penalties.”
Herta later tweeted that he probably would have made the same move as VeeKay because passing was difficult.
Tony Kanaan finished 19th in the last scheduled race for the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner, who has said he wants to race at the Brickyard and other select races next year.
Thank you guys. It has been a amazing journey. Love you all https://t.co/42lT2mdrNr
— Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan) August 30, 2020