PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Josef Newgarden tightened his grip on the IndyCar championship with a trouble-free run at Portland International Raceway and a victory by teammate Will Power.
Power won for the second time in three races, and the Sunday victory was critical because it prevented any of Newgarden’s title contenders from taking the top spot on the podium.
Newgarden started with a 38-point lead in the standings, finished fifth and now takes his bid for a second title in three years to the Sept. 22 season finale to Laguna Seca in California.
“I am happy for Will, I wanted Will to win the race,” Newgarden said. “If we weren’t going to win it, then he’s the guy to win and take the points away from somebody else.”
Power understood the task for Team Penske and Chevrolet, and understood he had to prevent Alexander Rossi and five-time and reigning series champion Scott Dixon from winning at Portland and closing in on Newgarden’s points lead. Rossi finished third, but still trails Newgarden by 41 points, while Dixon was in control of the race early until his battery died and is now a longshot to win the title.
“Just so stoked get to victory lane, helps the team, keeps the other guys from getting points,” Power said.
Less than thrilled was Rossi, who believed Portland was the place to pounce after Newgarden had a poor qualifying effort. It put Newgarden in 13th at the start and in the thick of the chaos that began with a multi-car crash in the opening turn. Newgarden, realizing he must only stay out of trouble in two races to win the title, remained calm and avoided the carnage.
“I was in the wrong place, I can tell you that,” he said. “I saw someone come barreling at me, so I just tried to stop and go around. When you start that far back, you run the risk of being part of something like that.”
Even after dropping to the back of the field, he still managed to drive his way toward the front and finish just two spots behind Rossi. While it’s still a matchup of a pair of American drivers racing for the title at Laguna Seca, Rossi knows he must win the finale and hope Newgarden has a disastrous race to win the championship.
Rossi was runner-up to Dixon in last year’s title race.
“It’s disappointing. We are on the podium from (starting) seventh and Josef was at the back at the beginning, and it’s just tough,” Rossi said. “He’s just always coming through. It’s hard when you have a good day and it’s just not good enough.”
All the contenders might have had to contend with Dixon, who had command of the race when his car powered down during a routine stop. His crew had to push him to his stall and replace the battery, and Dixon went from leader to three laps off the pace in a moment. His title hopes — he was fourth among the four drivers mathematically eligible to win the championship — dashed.
Power moved into the lead after Dixon’s issue and withstood a restart with four laps remaining for the victory. Felix Rosenqvist was second, followed by Rossi, pole-sitter Colton Herta, Newgarden, Spencer Pigot and Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, the final driver in the championship picture.
Pagenaud is now 42 points behind teammate Newgarden. Laguna Seca is worth double points.
Graham Rahal accepted fault for an opening-lap crash that ended his day, as well as both Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars on a pivotal day for driver Conor Daly.
Daly was essentially in a tryout for that seat next year, but didn’t even make it through the first turn after Rahal misjudged the corner and triggered a multi-car accident.
“Probably one of the most important races of my career ended by others’ mistakes,” said Daly, who was called in last-minute by the team when regular driver Marcus Ericsson opted to attend the Formula One race instead.
Rahal was apologetic for his error.
“I just messed up, misjudged it,” Rahal said. “I lost my depth there in the pack, not just a little, but a lot. I screwed up.”
IndyCar won’t return to Pocono Raceway next season and instead will replace the oval with Richmond Raceway on the 2020 schedule. Pocono’s contract expired after last month’s race and the Pennsylvania track has been questioned over its compatibility with IndyCar. The championship picture was clouded by a five-car crash on the opening lap in which one driver was evaluated at a hospital after his car sailed into the fence and another driver landed upside-down atop another car. Pocono returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2013. Justin Wilson was killed two years later when he was struck in the helmet by debris from another car. Last year, Robert Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury when his car sailed into the fence.
HONORING GREG MOORE
The IndyCar community planned to honor late driver Greg Moore, who was killed in a Halloween day crash 20 years ago at California Speedway, with a post-race party. Moore was a popular Canadian from Vancouver with a contract to join Roger Penske’s team in 2000 when he was killed in the 1999 season finale. The event planners encouraged guests to wear Hawaiian shirts, boot cut jeans, cargo pants and polo shirts with the collars popped to honor Moore’s 1990’s style. The event is fitting at Portland, which has added a throwback feel since it returned to the IndyCar schedule two years ago. Fans starved for live racing in the Pacific Northwest have packed the three-day event at the dusty road course that was once one of the most popular starts on the CART and Champ Car schedules.
The IndyCar season finale at Laguna Seca, which will be hosting IndyCar on Sept. 22 for the first time since 2004.
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