When you’re leading the NTT IndyCar Series championship standings and have a group of hungry drivers breathing down your neck, the last thing you need to do entering the final stretch of the season is take your eye off the competition.
And with 400 markers plus bonus points still up for grabs going into the Honda Indy Toronto, championship leader Josef Newgarden certainly isn't ready to discount anyone who is still within striking distance.
“I don't see any of those guys out of it whatsoever – there's a lot of racing to go,” Newgarden said when asked about the four closest drivers chasing him in points.
“I mean with seven races left and double points in the finale, to me we are a long way away from this thing being even remotely close to decided. So, there's a lot of people still in it, including (Scott) Dixon and (Will) Power.”
Newgarden leads the standings with 402 points, seven ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who closed the gap with a dominant victory in last weekend's REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. Newgarden's teammate Simon Pagenaud is 61 back in third, while five-time title winner Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing is 94 back in fourth. Team Penske's third driver Will Power is fifth, 108 behind.
Although Newgarden certainly isn't ready to discount a five-time champion, Dixon feels it will be time to worry once he falls more than 100 points behind, something he avoided with a incredible recovery from last after a spin on the first lap at Road America to score a top-five finish. Although the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driver knows he's in a bit of a hole, title No. 6 remains the target.
“We just have to keep our heads down,” said Dixon, who has won three of the past seven races in Toronto.
“I know we are 94 points back – that 100-point mark is looming which is not good – but you can't win them all, but we will keep trying.”
With Rossi nipping at his heels, Newgarden knows that having his two Team Penske teammates in the championship mix is certainly an advantage, but not in the way many might think. While it might seem logical for lower placed teammates to find ways help the points leader on track, Newgarden thinks that will ultimately slow them all down.
“What helps us win championships is that we push each other all year,” he said.
“You've got to kind of rely on your teammates to help push you forward – I'm pushing them and they're pushing me and hopefully that pushes all of us. As long as we are all up front that helps and gives you the opportunity to beat everybody. When it comes to the races, we race each other hard and we always have.”
One area where Newgarden feels the team has under-performed is on road courses where he thinks the team needs to improve, saying that areas needs a bit of special attention.
Newgarden is also wary of falling into the trap of expecting results based on previous success or failure, especially with six different winners in 10 races, and several others always lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce when the opportunity arises, as swell as an even split of five wins each for the Honda-and Chevrolet-powered cars.
“It's kind of a fickle game and there's always more to the story than the statistics show: If you look at Road America, no one would have favored Rossi because his best finish before Sunday was a 13th there and he won the race,” he said.
“And when we go to Iowa, where I've won and have always raced well, people can't look at me and go 'you're a shoo-in for a good result there.' That's just not the way it works — you have a realistic conversation about where you've been and your potential, but you can never bank on races.”