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


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.”

After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”