WATKINS GLEN, New York – Despite sparking controversy with a wheel-banging pass for the lead on his teammate a week ago, championship leader Josef Newgarden isn't about to curb his enthusiasm.
With two races to go in the Verizon IndyCar Series season and a 31-point lead in the championship standings, Newgarden insisted it's no time to start changing something that works.
“I think the safest thing is to keep doing what we've been doing,” the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet driver said today between practice sessions for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.
“It's not a very big lead, in my opinion. Thirty-one points is not much when you look at the current format. Sonoma, with double points, can make it swing any way, really. There's a lot of people in the fight. One mistake, one misfortune with reliability, it's pretty much wide open.”
Newgarden demonstrated his drive to win the title with 30 laps left in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline on Aug. 26 at Gateway Motorsports Park. Going into Turn 1, he barged his way into the lead by bumping Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud out of the way and almost putting the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet into the wall.
Although Pagenaud managed to keep his car off the wall, he lost momentum, allowing Scott Dixon to take advantage and steal second as Pagenaud finished third.
At the time, Pagenaud seethed about the contact and insisted that the trust and respect was gone. A week later, he chalked up his immediate reaction to “Latin blood.”
“Sometimes the emotions, it's very rare that I let them through, but I did. I lost the race and it was very disappointing,” Pagenaud said.
“I feel bad because I was disappointed in my reaction when I saw it afterwards. It's not nice for the guys on the team to be like that as a champion, so obviously I am a little apologetic. It has nothing to do with the move on track. Josef and I had a good chat and we are totally fine.”
As an outside observer, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe assessed the incident as huge risk with small reward for a driver already leading the championship and trying to overtake another who not only wasn't second in points, but also was his teammate.
“Here's the thing: If you eliminate all the external factors that you know about that situation and you just watch two guys going racing, it was a hell of a pass. It was badass, fun to watch and great for everybody,” Hinchcliffe said.
“But when you take into account all the external factors – three races to go in the season, leading the championship, (Newgarden) would have extended his lead either way, and it was his teammate – it was definitely a risky maneuver. It's one of those ones that if you pull it off, you're a hero, but if that had gone the other way, it would be one of those things that hangs with you for years.”
Like Pagenaud, Newgarden insisted all is fine in the Team Penske camp and the outfit is ready to get on with the job at hand – especially with four drivers in the top five in points. Helio Castroneves is third, 42 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, is fourth, 43 points out of first. Will Power is fifth, 83 points back.
“I don't think there's any animosity, no,” Newgarden said.
“I know it seems like a show sometimes, but we actually do work really well together in this team. That comes from the top down, from the leadership. So we're good, yeah, absolutely. I think we're excited to work together here this weekend. I don't think there's any problems with us as far as going forward.”