Josef Newgarden wins at IMS, cuts into Scott Dixon’s points lead


Josef Newgarden won the opener of the Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, taking a major chunk out of Scott Dixon’s NTT IndyCar Series championship lead with the victory Friday.

The two-time and defending series champion started second and cruised to a 14.2940-second margin over Alexander Rossi with sound strategy and consistently strong laps in his No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

“We had a rocket ship,” said Newgarden, who led a race-high 34 of 85 laps in his first victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (whose road course statistically had been Newgarden’s worst track prior to Friday with a 14.57 average finish; the Indy 500 on the IMS oval was his second worst). “I knew we did yesterday in qualifying. I was so surprised by how quick the car was.

RESULTS, POINTS: Full stats package from Race 1 of the Harvest GP

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: Postrace quotes Friday from IMS

“It was a great fight today. It was strategy, it was close combat, it was everything you wanted in an IndyCar race, and I had the quickest car. Team Chevy did an amazing job. I’m pumped to be up here. I’ve always wanted to get up here. I want to get up here during the ‘500,’ but this is cool.”

With his third IndyCar victory of the season and 17th of his career, the Team Penske driver cut Dixon’s lead to 40 points with two races remaining — Saturday’s closer of the Harvest GP (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and the Oct. 25 season finale on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Newgarden said he still needed “perfect days” over the last two races to overtake Dixon.

“If you’d given us a couple of those races where we caught the bad yellows, we’d really be in this fight,” Newgarden told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s almost a shame what kind of deficit we have in the points, but this team has been unbelievable.

“They’ve been the quickest on pit lane all year. They’ve done a great job, a really great job. They deserve to be in this championship fight. So, it’s still a bit of a hill. We made it smaller, which is really good news. But I’ve said we’ve got to have three perfect races to the finish, and this is one of them down. We’ve got two to go.”

Dixon had carried a 72-point lead over Newgarden into the race weekend and lost a point Thursday when he qualified 12th while Newgarden made the front row. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was stuck in traffic for much of the 85-lap race and finished ninth, losing two spots by going off course with two laps remaining.

It was among many mistakes in an action-packed race that was among the season’s best for contact and close racing. Among the highlights: Herta locked his wheels up trying to fend off Newgarden, Will Power made an excellent save off the final turn, and a collision between Santino Ferrucci and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

With a runner-up, Rossi scored his third consecutive podium (on the heels of a third and second at Mid-Ohio Sports Course) and his best finish on the IMS road course.

But the Andretti Autosport driver was extremely upset with IndyCar stewards after being penalized for exceeding track limits by crossing a boundary line.

It was the second costly penalty at Indy this year for Rossi, who also was docked for contact in the pits with Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato in the Aug. 23 race.

“I did two wheels over the white line,” the 2016 Indy 500 winner told NBC Sports pit reporter Dillon Welch. “I didn’t go over our talked-about reference point and still got a penalty. Two times at Indianapolis, weird penalties, I don’t know what to say.

“The car was great. Hats off to the NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda boys. We’ve never been good here (on the IMS road course), so to get on the podium is fantastic. Great testament to Honda. It’s been a huge effort for the team to find some sort of pace here. The fact that we did that is good. Disappointed because it’s weird that these penalties just keep happening. Not a lot of explanation on our side.”

Rinus VeeKay, who started on pole position for the first time in his rookie season, was third, followed by Herta (who led 29 laps) and Felix Rosenqvist.

One of the best battles was between VeeKay and Herta, continuing a fierce rivalry that started in the Aug. 30 race at World Wide Racing Technology Raceway at Gateway. The 20-year-olds traded the lead during the first three laps, and VeeKay fought his way past Herta onto the podium with three laps left.

“It was a fun day with Colton,” VeeKay told Lee. “He was very quick midway through the race. Everyone is on their best level here. Tough race. First podium, very happy with it. But I think second was possible. Not 100 percent satisfied.”

Friday’s race featured a limited crowd for an IndyCar race at IMS for the first time this season. Track owner Roger Penske, who also owns Newgarden’s car, greeted fans upon their arrival Thursday at Gate 1.

Newgarden said he got a little emotional as he and his winning ride were given a lift up to the IMS Winner’s Circle on a new elevator installed by Penske, who has spent millions upgrading the storied facility since January.

“I don’t think I can think about the race, I’m so excited to be up here on this platform,” Newgarden said. “I wish I was up here with ‘The Captain.’ (Penske has) done such an amazing job with this facility, and to see people back here socially distanced in the stands at least getting to watch a race, I’m sure he’s really happy today, and I’m happy to be up here representing him and Team Penske, everyone at IndyCar”, IMS. Thank you to everyone that came out.”

Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, ‘Man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull?’ ”

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It probably would look a lot different than the 2023 season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen. The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with tying Senna’s mark for titles this season, Verstappen seems poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably would win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory. Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport each have visited victory lane in 2023 with Arrow McLaren certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars leading more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series. While F1 teams have virtually autonomy to build their cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization. Teams all use the DW-12 chassis, whose development has been maximized over the past 13-plus seasons.

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar because driver talent can be a bigger determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion said its appeal doesn’t stem from being competitive.

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne, we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars. The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. This is spec. Really the only things you can change is dampers and engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of how tight the series. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with that Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there’s 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate drivers series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There’s so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”