SONOMA, Calif. – While a championship is out of reach for Josef Newgarden in 2016, he is still poised to finish with the season today with a career-best result in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.
Heading into the final race of the year, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver lies fifth in the standings, 109 points behind leader Simon Pagenaud and mathematically eliminated from title contention. Newgarden, however, is just five points behind Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, and 19 ahead of Tony Kanaan in sixth.
Newgarden, whose best championship finish in four previous Verizon IndyCar Series seasons was seventh in 2015, can rise as high as second this year if he wins the race and championship contender Will Power finishes 15th or worse. Newgarden acknowledged that he has to push hard in today’s 85-lap event at Sonoma Raceway, but still must run his normal race.
“I think we approach it as normal,” the driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet said. “Second (in the championship) is great that we can potentially be in that spot. For us, I think we have to race as normal this year. We have to probably be on the more aggressive side, whereas Simon (Pagenaud, the championship leader) is probably the only guy that doesn’t have to be on the aggressive side.”
“Scott, Will, Helio, TK – we’re all aggressive to try and get to the highest finish position that we can be.”
Saturday was an up-and-down day for the 25-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn. Newgarden crashed in the morning’s practice, but the team repaired the car for qualifying and Newgarden nailed down the 10th starting spot.
Despite not making the Firestone Fast Six, Newgarden was happy with the result.
"We did a good job as a group getting a decent result in qualifying. It's a good top-10 starting spot,” he said. “We would have liked more, I think everyone would have, but that's OK. We're still in a strong position to attack (in the race).
“We're still going to have a great race car; we know how to build a fast race car here. I have all the confidence that we'll be quick and can capitalize from our starting spot."
Newgarden’s year has had its highs, including a best finish of third at the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil after being in the hunt for the win the entire day. A scary crash at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12 left him with a fractured right clavicle and right hand, but didn’t faze him. Newgarden continued on to the next round at Road America and finished eighth. He then scored a dominating win at Iowa Speedway, where he led an Indy car-record 282 laps.
“I think it’s been a good year,” Newgarden said, “particularly the Indianapolis 500. I think that’s improved us quite a bit. We had our best Indy 500 ever and that’s the one race that you’d like to see a steady improvement every year.
“We’ve won another race (Iowa). I think we’ve had other opportunities to win other races aside from that. I think it’s been a nice progression from 2015. We took what we did there (winning two races) and we had a great year in ’15, and I think we had a similar if not somewhat better year in ‘16.”
A 30-minute warmup practice begins at 2:30 p.m. ET today and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.