Josef Newgarden losing six spots at Portland with grid penalty in tight IndyCar title fight

3 Comments

PORTLAND, Oregon — As IndyCar speeds into the final two races of its season and the tightest championship race in nearly two decades, title contender Josef Newgarden already faces a penalty Sunday at Portland International Raceway.

The two-time series champion will lose six spots on the starting grid because Team Penske changed his engine ahead of the Portland Grand Prix (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on NBC). At a circuit that is difficult to pass, the penalty has put Newgarden at a quick deficit.

Newgarden remained optimistic he can overcome the setback and leave Sunday’s race still in the running for a third IndyCar title.

INDYCAR AT PORTLANDSchedules, how to watch on NBC, Peacock this weekend

“I wouldn’t say it’s ideal, but I don’t know that it is make-or-break,” Newgarden said Friday before turning the fastest lap in the lone practice session on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course. “Hopefully it’s not a huge negative and I don’t think it will be.”

Rookie David Malukas was second quickest in practice, followed by Scott McLaughlin, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. Points leader Will Power was 10th quickest.

FRIDAY PRACTICE: Speed chart from the first session

Power leads the championship with two races remaining – Sunday at Portland and Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. But his lead has been sliced to just three points by Newgarden, his Team Penske teammate who raced to his fifth victory of the season in IndyCar’s last outing to pull right into Power’s rearview mirror.

But there’s no breathing room at all in this title fight: Scott Dixon, the six-time champion, trails Power by 14 points as a trio of Chip Ganassi Racing drivers are challenging the Penske teammates. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson is 17 points out, while reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou is fifth in the standings, 43 points back.

The contenders actually include Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward at sixth and seventh in the standings because both remain mathematically eligible to win the title. Any driver who trails the points leader by 54 points or more after Sunday’s race will be eliminated, and O’Ward is currently 58 points behind Power.

This intense championship fight has featured seven lead changes this season between Power, Newgarden, Palou, Ericsson and McLaughlin and the three points that separate Penske teammates Power and Newgarden is the closest margin with two races remaining since 2008. The 43 points separating the top five drivers in the championship is the tightest title chase since 2003, when 41 points separated the top five.

The Ganassi goal is clear: Chip Ganassi has told his three contenders he wants them to finish 1-2-3 in the title race and his drivers should race each other clean through the checkered flag next weekend in Laguna Seca.

“Rule No. 1 is don’t take your teammate out,” Dixon said. “Everybody obviously races to win, but there’s some respect required when racing your teammates.”

Dixon also noted that Penske driver McLaughlin seemed to deliberately move out of Newgarden’s way two weeks ago at Gateway to help Newgarden win the race. McLaughlin was the leader on the final restart, controlled it and pulled out to a nice lead before Newgarden easily reeled him in and won his fifth race of the season.

Asked by The Associated Press after the race at Gateway how Newgarden caught him so quickly, McLaughlin credited “the slipstream effect. I did all I could to try and break away as much as I could.”

But when asked by AP why it seemed McLaughlin was standing still as Newgarden rocketed past, he demurred.

“Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know,” McLaughlin said.

Power said that team owner Roger Penske gave his drivers a briefing ahead of Gateway and cautioned them against needlessly racing one another and costing the overall team effort. But Newgarden’s interpretation of the boss’ orders seemed to be that winning is the ultimate goal.

“I think the smart thing is to not be at each other’s throats the entire race,” Newgarden said. “You’d probably have that opinion at any point of the year. But when it comes down to it, Roger has always had the position that when it comes down to the end of the race, it’s go time.

“When it’s time to go, it’s time to go, and Roger understands that. But he wants us to do it in the best way possible. Race hard, but race fair and don’t take each other out. But things sometimes happen. All you can do is try to make it as fair as possible.”

IndyCar rookie Callum Ilott has settled comfortably into the series with an active role at Juncos Hollinger Racing. He agreed in July to a contract extension to return next year to what Ilott is expecting to be an expanded two-car team.

Although he has no control over who the team hires for a second seat, he’s been vocal with Ricardo Juncos on possible hires. At the top of his list? Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist.

Rosenqvist will be pushed out of his IndyCar seat with McLaren if Palou is freed from his contract with Ganassi, a process that is both currently in arbitration and winding itself through the courts. McLaren wants to move Rosenqvist to its new Formula E team, but the Swede wants to remain in IndyCar.

“Felix, I would love to have him and I think he would be one of the best options we can get,” Ilott told AP. “I would open my arms for him. Out of everything, I think that would be the best situation for who we could get because he’s got the most experience, and he’s a great guy as well.”

Ilott came from the European system, and though he’s technically still a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, he said he’s disconnected from the F1 world right now and has no real remaining responsibilities. It’s made IndyCar his full focus, and he’s not sure if other young European drivers who have financial backing but can’t break into F1 will follow Ilott and fellow rookie Christian Lundgaard to the United States.

He said JHR isn’t actively searching for a driver who brings a budget to help with the expansion, but that the team would consider someone making the jump from Europe.

“I know how difficult it was for my side as an F2 guy coming over to IndyCar, I think it was a challenge and there will be a lot they would have to learn from me,” Ilott said. “Is it developing us as a team? Probably not as quickly as Felix would.”

Ilott then hinted that JHR could be interested in a current Indy Lights driver – Linus Lundqvist could wrap up the Lights title on Sunday – or even a veteran. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has sat out of IndyCar this season, is under a sports car contract with Chip Ganassi Racing but has also been mentioned for several 2023 IndyCar openings.

“Do you take someone from Lights who knows the tracks but doesn’t necessarily know the Indy car? That’s probably easier than (an F2 driver) in some ways,” Ilott said. “Or do you take someone who has maybe been in IndyCar but hasn’t been in the series the last one or two years? There’s a lot of possibilities out there.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s

0 Comments

After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points


The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage