Will Power wins from pole position as IndyCar championship race tightens

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Will Power led wire to wire to win from the pole position Saturday in Race 2 of the Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where teammate Josef Newgarden pushed the NTT IndyCar Series title battle to the season finale.

Power scored his second victory this year, holding off a furious charge by Colton Herta to win by 0.8932 seconds.

“The tires had gone away, it was a very tough battle,” Power told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “I had to work very hard to keep (Herta) behind. Just so happy to have Verizon and Chevy in victory lane again. We had two Hondas trying to attack us there, but the Chevy had very good power and driveability so over the moon to get another one, especially at this place.”

SATURDAY’S RESULTS, POINTS: Full stats package from Race 2 of the Harvest GP

WHAT THEY SAID: Postrace posts and quotes from drivers

In leading all 75 laps, Power earned his fourth victory on the 14-turn, 2.349-mile road course and the eighth for Team Penske, which swept the doubleheader race weekend (after Newgarden’s Friday victory) for track owner Roger Penske in raising its IndyCar victory total to 218.

“Just needed a little more time and a little more tires,” Herta said. “Couldn’t have gotten him today, though.”

With the 39th victory of his career, the 39-year-old Australian also tied Al Unser for fifth on the series’ all-time winners list, three behind Michael Andretti.

“Oh man, when you talk about the names I’m around, it’s just amazing these people (are) absolute legends of the sport,” Power said. “I could never have imagined having my name among such unbelievable, historic drivers. All these guys, I was a huge fan of when I was a kid, and they’re kind of my heroes, so it’s really cool to have my name up there.”

Alexander Rossi finished third (and on the podium for the fourth consecutive race) and was followed by Newgarden and Pato O’Ward.

“Been a real good roll for us, we needed that,” Rossi said. “Ultimately I don’t know that anyone had anything for Will today.”

Jack Harvey, Graham Rahal, Dixon, Alex Palou and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top 10.

After winning Friday’s race at IMS, Newgarden was able to cut Scott Dixon’s championship lead to 32 points Saturday.

“We were a little shy of where we needed to be,” said Newgarden, who qualified ninth. “If we could have had a phenomenal day like yesterday, we’d be in really good shape, but we were just mediocre today. I think we had a car to compete with Will and Herta and Rossi, we just didn’t start up far enough.

“I got buried on the inside (on the start). I got pushed back a little too far. The key was being up higher earlier today. I had to work through a lot just like Scott did, and if we could have just got a clean qualifying run, I really think we would have had a better day,

“Look, we’re in it with a shot. We can go to St. Pete now and try and win this championship. I just wish we were in a little closer position.”

Dixon started 15th and fought his way to eighth, ensuring the IndyCar championship will be decided in the final race for the 15th consecutive season. Dixon had entered Indianapolis with a 72-point lead two races ago.

The five-time series champion encountered trouble within the first 10 laps as a collision with Ryan Hunter-Reay poked a hole in the left undertray of his No. 9 Dallara-Honda.

Struggling with straight-line speed because of the damage there, Dixon battled to stay in the top 10 and received help from Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist running interference during the first stint.

“I was loose the whole race because of (the damage),” Dixon said. “I think I made contact a couple of times, once with Hunter-Reay and then I think Charlie Kimball and I connected at some point there.

“We tried everything. We were flat out. It’s a pretty basic two-stopper so there wasn’t much to do, so interesting day for us.

“It’s nice to still be on the leading side of the points. It’s still a good margin. Gives us a little bit of window. (Newgarden and Team Penske have) been very good at St. Pete, too, for many years. We’re definitely going to have our work cut out and obviously kudos to Team Penske and Josef and Will, but we’ll keep trying hard.”

The IndyCar season will conclude Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, which originally was the season opener until being postponed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The race will be shown at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Dixon can clinch his sixth title by finishing eighth or better in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, regardless of Newgarden’s result.

The Harvest GP was open to a crowd limited to 10,000 for its Friday-Saturday doubleheader, the first fans allowed at an IndyCar race this season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We want to thank all the fans that visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for the Harvest GP,” said Roger Penske, who took ownership of IMS in January and greeted fans Thursday at Gate 1. “This was really our first opportunity we have had to share some of the enhancements we have made at IMS, and it was great to see people having a good time at the Brickyard. We have seen some great action on track all weekend, including two exciting NTT IndyCar Series races.

“We were proud to welcome fans back to the Speedway, and we are looking forward to a strong finish to the season at St. Petersburg.”

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”