By: Tanner Watkins
September 17, 2019 | 7:00 AM
With a 41-point lead entering this weekend’s final round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship, no driver is in a better position to win the title than Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
The former series champion has led the points standings after all but one race, and while there have been some bumps along the way, Newgarden’s 2019 season has been nothing short of fantastic with career bests in average finish (5.5), laps led (490) and wins (4, tied with 2017).
And still, Newgarden insists he isn’t comfortable enough to enjoy the accomplishments of 2019 just yet.
“With double points, I’ve tried to make everyone aware all the way along that it’s far from being over, that it’s always going to be a difficult race in Laguna with a double-point situation,” said Newgarden.
“That’s where we find ourselves. We’re in the better position. We definitely have a little bit of a comfort (zone), but nothing that you can feel too comfortable about.
“We still have to perform really well. Finishing fourth or higher in an IndyCar race, to guarantee the championship, is not really an easy task. I mean, it’s difficult to run in the top five in the IndyCar Series week in and week out.”
Indeed, there have been some challenges along the way. Tough breaks in the IndyCar Grand Prix and the second Detroit race left him with finishes of 15th and 19th, respectfully. Then at Mid-Ohio, Newgarden pushed a bit too hard on the last lap trying to pick up a spot on Ryan Hunter-Reay before throwing away a top-five finish.
Newgarden notes that experiences similar to Mid-Ohio have taught him to throttle back at times, even if it defies his natural instincts.
“I’ve been known to have my moments in the car. Mid-Ohio was definitely one of them,” Newgarden stated.
“The problem is I just can’t help myself sometimes. My nature is to always go for a higher position. I’ve had to work on pulling myself back.
“I think I’ve learned how to do that in a lot of ways over the last couple years. I’ve been able to do that. I feel confident that my approach can be good.”
Each of the remaining drivers in contention can handle the pressure – Newgarden and Pagenaud are former champions, while Pagenaud and Rossi are each Indianapolis 500 winners – and it is their stature as a trio in this series which makes this final race so compelling.
As noted by Newgarden, the entire top five has a chip on their shoulder which has created another compelling fight for the title in 2019.
“I think there’s definitely a strong competitive rivalry between a couple of the top guys,” added the Tennessee native. “I really think that whole top five. You look at Will, Scott, Simon and Alex and myself, I think we’ve kind of been on top of each other most weekends. That doesn’t really go away. It hasn’t gone away. We always seem to find ourselves around each other.
“I think there’s a strong rivalry there, a positive rivalry between a couple of these guys up at the top. It always makes your job hard. Going into the weekend, you got to beat some of the best out there, good teams that you’re competing against.
“I think it’s what you want. You want to have the best guys to compete against. I think we have that in the IndyCar Series.”
Four drivers are still eligible to win the 2019 title, and remarkably, this is the 14th consecutive year that the IndyCar championship has been decided in the final race. All that is left to do, is race.
Header image by Christopher Owens/INDYCAR.