Newgarden rockets into title contention with 5th IndyCar win

Sports

MADISON, Ill. (AP) — A rain delay saved the victory for Josef Newgarden, who earned his IndyCar-best fifth win of the season Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway and again tightened the championship standings.

Newgarden had been bumped from the lead by Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin shortly before the race was stopped for rain and lightning with 43 laps remaining. After a delay of just over 2 hours, the race resumed with 36 laps to go and Newgarden needed only one to get past his “Bus Bro” buddy and hold on for the victory.

“I think this 2 car crew has been very patient with me, I’ve lost my cool a couple of times in closed-doors, out of frustration for us,” Newgarden said. “Sometimes you are wrong time, wrong place, and I feel like that’s been happening a lot this year and it kind of happened again tonight. I felt like we put ourselves in position, it’s time to close, and there was just a barrier that got in front of us.

“Fortunately we were able to get back out there and I was so happy we were able to finish this race. Scott McLaughlin, you know, he wanted to win, too. I love that about us, we have a great relationship, and he drove me super fair there.”

Although he has more than double the wins of any of his rivals, Newgarden has only been in the middle of the title hunt. He started the race on the short oval outside St. Louis ranked fourth in the standings, 22 points behind leader Will Power, his Penske teammate.

Newgarden is now second in the standings and just three points behind Power with two races remaining. Newgarden won for the third consecutive year at WWTR and fourth time in his career.

“Great effort, great team,” Newgarden radioed his team. “Great, great effort. Perfect car.”

David Malukas, the rookie for Dale Coyne Racing, put on a stunning display of picking his way through traffic after the final restart. He passed McLaughlin on the final lap to disrupt the potential Penske 1-2 finish, and had the race gone one more lap, Malukas might have had a shot at catching Newgarden for the win.

Newgarden in a Chevrolet beat Malukas in a Honda by 0.4708-seconds.

“They said ‘Do you see them up front?’ and I just see two Penske’s and think ‘Oh my God, they’re Penske’s,’” the 20-year-old said. “They were tough. They were tough to even get any kind of suck to get close to them.”

With two lapt to go, Malukas at last ventured into the top line of the track and found it racy enough to catch McLaughlin. He instantly lamented not trying the lane earlier.

“If I would have done that a bit sooner, maybe we could have done something for Newgarden,” Malukas said. “That is a win for me, a win for the team. We started off this season a bit rough and ever since May we’ve been getting better and better. We knew a podium was in sight.”

McLaughlin finished third for Penske and was followed by Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP in fourth. The race began with seven drivers separated by 59 points in the standings; it ended with seven drivers separated by 58 points — O’Ward gained a point.

Takuma Sato finished fifth for Coyne and was followed by Power, who had a near perfect first half of the race and was routing the field until a split Penske strategy pushed him back into traffic. Malukas and Sato then caught him after the final restart as the Coyne cars used fresher tires to pick their way through the field.

It was a disappointing race for the title contenders from Chip Ganassi Racing; all three lost ground in the standings. Marcus Ericsson finished seventh, Scott Dixon was eighth and reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou was ninth. Dixon dropped from second in the standings, six points out, to third in points and 14 out.

LIGHTS FIGHT

Matthew Brabham briefly stopped Linus Lundqvist’s rout in Indy Lights by winning the junior series race earlier Saturday. It was the second win of the season for the Andretti Autosport driver, who is the grandson of three-time Formula One World Champion Jack Brabham.

Lundqvist, who has won five of 10 races this season, finished second and Brabham conceded the title to him. Brabham’s win moved him to second in the standings, more than 100 points behind Lundqvist with three races remaining.

“I’m just focusing on race wins personally. Anything can happen, but I seriously doubt it,” said Brabham.

Lundqvist, meanwhile, has had slow going in talks on a promotion to IndyCar next season. He drive for an affiliate team of Dale Coyne Racing, which is in contract talks on bringing Takuma Sato back another year.

“I’m calling people. Not the other way around, unfortunately,” said Lundqvist, adding his success rate was “about 50% ratio” on getting a team on the phone.

“I just call them 10 times. They’re bound to pick up sometimes,” he said.

Meanwhile, reigning NASCAR Mexico champion Salvador de Alba won the Indy Pro 2000 race from the pole. It was de Alba’s second career victory, but he inherited his first win last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his teammate failed post-race inspection.

UP NEXT

IndyCar races Sept. 24 on the road course at Portland. Palou won from the pole last year to reclaim the IndyCar points lead and ultimately win his first championship.

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