PORTLAND, Ore. – Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) acknowledged Friday that this NTT IndyCar Series championship is likely his to lose.
Heading to Sunday’s penultimate race at Portland International Raceway, Newgarden leads teammate Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Chevrolet) by 38 points and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) by 40. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) is 70 points in arrears.
“I would say it is (mine to lose) because we’re in such a favorable position,” Newgarden said. “I don’t think it’s a secure position, but it is a favorable one.”
A maximum of 54 points are available to be won in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland with another 104 up for grabs Sunday, Sept. 22 in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (Calif.) at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Assuming all four drivers compete in the season finale, a title hopeful likely needs to be within 94 points of the lead exiting Portland to have a chance.
GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND: Friday's Top Speeds
Newgarden believes the pressure is on him more than the others.
“If we lose it, it probably would sting a bit more,” he said. “If you are (the other drivers), I think it stings less. It (stings) either way, but if you lose it with a bigger advantage then yeah, I think it just stings a bit more.”
Pagenaud said he is only concerned about how he fares this weekend.
“It doesn’t really matter what Josef or Alex or Scott do – it really is about my own performance,” he said. “I’m really focused on that, focused on being in the moment as much as possible. We’ll see what we can do.
“It’s really awesome to be (in contention) at this point in the season. Last two races, four guys in the championship. It’s really exciting.”
Rossi’s confidence remains high despite finishes of 18th and 13th, respectively, in the past two races. Asked if he felt a title was still within reach, he did not mince words.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” he said. “For sure.”
Dixon conceded his best path to a sixth series championship is to win the season’s final two races.
“It’s nice not to have to worry about points,” he said. “Kind of just get after it, try to have a good weekend, see what happens in Laguna.”
A leg up? Rossi not so sure
Andretti Autosport was the only NTT IndyCar Series team to have tested here at Portland with its full-time drivers. Indy Lights points leader Oliver Askew tested for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Which means, Alexander Rossi is the only championship contender to have received extra time on this 12-turn, 1.964-mile permanent road course, and it seemed to have showed in Friday’s practice sessions. All five of the Andretti cars, which includes the partner program that includes rookie Colton Herta, were in the top 11, with Herta first in the No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda (57.295 seconds, 123.115 mph) and Rossi second (57.5538, 122.849 mph) and Marco Andretti fifth (57.9006, 122.113 mph) in the No. 98 Oberto Circle K/Curb Honda.
Scott Dixon was third on Friday’s speed chart (57.7922, 122.342 mph) with Josef Newgarden fourth (57.8504, 122.219 mph) and Simon Pagenaud 13th (58.2207, 121.441 mph).
Rossi acknowledges some benefits, but Aug. 7 was cooler than the conditions expected for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland. For that reason, Rossi expects to revert to chassis setups more similar to what the team used here last year.
And any advantage Rossi has over the other championship contenders isn’t an advantage in the scope of the season since the number of testing opportunities are capped.
“Because (the others) tested at some tracks we didn’t test at, so it all comes around to be pretty even at the end of the year,” Rossi said. “Their advantage was probably already exercised.
“As teams, we look at it where we can get the most benefit out of (testing) and you take sacrifices where other teams test at. At the end of the year, it’s fairly even.”
Conor Daly is driving for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at this weekend’s Grand Prix of Portland as series rookie Marcus Ericsson was made available to the Alfa Romeo F1 team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix. This is Daly’s third team this season, having driven for Andretti Autosport and Carlin. Daly spent four races with the Schmidt Peterson team in 2015 when James Hinchcliffe was injured.
For the second consecutive year, Daly will compete in the USAC midget race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s quarter-mile dirt track. The Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink is Sept. 4-5. Daly will drive the No. 35 entry of Petry Motorsports.