MONTEREY, California — The next American racing legend is now a two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion.
Josef Newgarden finished eighth in Sunday’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, clinching his second series championship by 25 points over teammate Simon Pagenaud.
Newgarden’s strategy was simple. Starting fourth, the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet started alongside Alexander Rossi, who was second in points. Shadowing Rossi was priority one.
“There was a lot of moments where I think I could have blown by (Rossi) and I didn’t,” said Newgarden. “I just really tried to just stay around him all day, and in some ways that’s really good because we were right there with him, but then in other ways he could suck us into a bad situation, and there was parts of the race where I thought that was happening.”
Newgarden stayed near Rossi most of the race but lost contact with the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner near the race’s end as Rossi finished sixth.
Rookie pole-sitter Colton Herta won the race, followed by Will Power, Scott Dixon and Pagenaud.
Try as he might, Rossi could not overcome the points deficit to Newgarden and would drop to third in the standings with 608 points behind Newgarden (641) and Pagenaud (616). Rossi gracefully accepted defeat.
“From a sporting perspective, probably the right guy won,” said Rossi. “(Newgarden) came into this thing with a pretty big lead, and if it had gone away on double points, I would have loved it. But ultimately, it probably wouldn’t have been the outcome that should have happened. Josef did a great job, Simon did a good job there at the end, and we just were a couple points short.”
Pagenaud started the race third in points and was pressuring Dixon for third place over the last third of the race, but the New Zealander would not waver.
“I had a lot more pace than (Dixon) had at the end of the stint,” said Pagenaud. “Midway through the stint, all of a sudden my car would be a lot better. (Dixon) was degrading a lot. I think I could’ve challenged Will (Power) and Will being in his position, Herta was the next target so who knows what could’ve happened. You can’t be disappointed today because I think you saw it, I gave everything I had, that was probably my most aggressive drive ever, including Indy and that’s where we end up at the end. I don’t think I could’ve done any better.”
Four drivers entered the finale with a chance to win the championship but one of those drivers’ hopes would end before the race reached its two-thirds mark. Santino Ferrucci and Ed Jones both retired from the race after different incidents affected both cars, and that eliminated Dixon’s chances.
Dixon needed Newgarden to finish 23rd or 24th out of 24 cars if Dixon were able to win and only score one bonus point. Newgarden’s minimum finishing position became 22nd following the two retirements, and the five-time series champion would only be able to tie Newgarden on points with Newgarden winning the tiebreaker on number of wins.
Still, Dixon charged during the race.
“We really just had to win, you know,” said Dixon. “So it wasn’t much of a scenario for us, so we just raced as hard as we could. We really just didn’t have the speed on the black (sidewall tires), it was kind of frustrating. The first sort of five to 10 laps were OK and then 15 to 20 laps in it fell off a cliff.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist beat Herta by five points to claim top rookie honors. Rosenqvist ended the year sixth in the overall points, Herta was right behind in seventh.