“Dude, this has been a weird weekend.”
NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden pretty much summed up Sunday’s weather-shortened ABC 500 at Pocono Raceway. It was a race where he started on the pole, led only one lap, finished fifth and yet doubled his advantage over Alexander Rossi.
In terms of the battle for the championship, while it increased Newgarden’s lead, it tightened the overall scrum with three races remaining in 2019.
Rossi, who trailed by 16 points entering the race, was collected in a five-car pileup on the opening lap and finished 18th — scoring only 12 points.
“Obviously, I didn’t get a good start, so that’s on me. But we were three-wide — Ryan was on the inside, I was in the middle and Takuma (Sato) was on the outside. I can’t even begin to understand how, after last year, Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars, at that speed, in that corner at a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting, and may have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting. This team works too hard to have something like that happen.
“The whole team worked tirelessly to get the 27 car back on track,” a dejected Rossi continued. “Once we got out there, the car just didn’t have the handling we needed so we held on to make up as many points as we could. Unfortunately, the weather came, and the race was called one lap before we could gain another spot.
“We have a couple days to rebound and go for race wins now; that’s all that matters.”
Scott Dixon, meanwhile, finished second and earned 38 points, moving to within 52 points of Newgarden; and Simon Pagenaud racked up 38 points for his third-place finish and now sits 40 points behind his Penske teammate.
“It was kind of an interesting day, but it could have been worse,” said Newgarden, who collected 31 points. “It was sort of like qualifying yesterday where qualifying got rained out but we started on the pole. We didn’t finish the race but we finished fifth. We’ll take it. I wish we could have been a little bit higher, but I think Will (Power) was going to be tough to beat today. He looked very strong. Certainly towards the middle of the race, I thought he was looking very good.
“We fought with what we had today. It was strange — we weren’t very good, but we gained on Rossi. Racing is crazy. It’s going down to the last race, we know that.”
What’s really crazy is to think that four races ago Dixon was 98 points out of first place in his quest for a sixth title. But a victory at Mid-Ohio and three seconds at Iowa, Toronto and Pocono have moved the 38-year-old veteran into striking distance.
Asked why he seemed to be so resilient, Dixon replied: “It’s the team’s MO, to be honest. Championships are won in many different ways. Last year we took the lead at Texas and carried through. It’s more stressful like that — I’m sure Josef is feeling that way since he’s led the whole year, while if you’re coming from behind you can take more risks and go for wins.
“I definitely had some luck to get back into this thing, so now we’ll keep our head down for these last three races.”
Pagenaud, trying to duplicate his 2016 championship, continued his march to the front with another strong run, but he’s not at all surprised to see Dixon’s late rally.
“I told everyone a month ago not to count him out,” said the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner. “That team knows how to manage situations and he hasn’t won all those championships because he’s lucky.”
As for his charge, Pagenaud said: “I’m excited to gain points on Josef for the second race in a row and it was another good points day for us. We’ve got a good chance and we’re going to keep pushing,”
Dixon came from a long way behind in 2015 to edge Juan Montoya for the IndyCar title, understands how this game is played, and never gets too high or too low. “Until you’re mathematically eliminated, you’re never out of it, and the next three races will be interesting.