Newgarden Crowned Verizon IndyCar Series Champion; Pagenaud Bags Season Finale At Sonoma

Josef Newgarden, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, with his ring and the Astor Cup trophy. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

Josef Newgarden, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, with his ring and the Astor Cup trophy. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

by Joe Jennings

Hard-charger Josef Newgarden copped the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship with a solid second-place finish in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, and reigning champion Simon Pagenaud bagged the victory for the second consecutive year.

The happy Tennessee driver was very emotional upon exiting his car, saying, “I don’t even know what to say.  This is so cool and awesome. It took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske. To finally get it done is a dream comes true.

“My natural instincts were to try and win the race, so it was hard to lay back and be patient, and I knew better than to do something dumb.  Simon is a very deserving winner.”

In winning the championship, Newgarden became the third American driver to do so since 2000 and at 26, the youngest driver to win since Jacques Villeneuve in 1995.

Team owner Roger Penske said, “I think if you look at racing today across all of the disciplines, these drivers, these young people are coming up with lots of capabilities. You see it in NASCAR; we see it in our super car. There’s no question that because they start early, we’re going to see younger people come to the top, as Josef has, and I think I called him a journeyman where he started in go-karts, the family helped him, he went to Europe, came over here, won in Indy Lights, and he drove for Sarah (Fisher) for a couple years and then for Tony. He’s got the perfect experience. He lives and sleeps racing.”

Simon Pagenaud celebrates in Victory Circle after winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.  [Photo by: Chris Jones]

Simon Pagenaud celebrates in Victory Circle after winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. [Photo by: Chris Jones]

Starting from the pole, Newgarden barged into the lead at the start of the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma around the 2.385 mile road course in the heart of California’s wine country, only to be outfoxed by teammate Pagenaud, who followed a different race strategy – four stops.

The key move of the race came on lap 67 when Pagenaud pitted, coming out ahead of Newgarden, who pitted five laps earlier.  Pagenaud gave it his all to maintain the lead while Newgarden tried valiantly to overtake the leader until Team Penske strategist and president Tim Cindric repeatedly advised his driver to not take any chances.

Newgarden adhered to the advice to give him the coveted championship in his first year with Team Penske.  The legendary team chalked up its 15th championship.

With Chevrolet powering the Team Penske entry, the powerful company copped its sixth consecutive manufacture championship.

In the final point tally, Newgarden held a 13-marker advantage over Pagenaud, who advanced to second, with Scott Dixon dropping to third in the standings.

Pagenaud drove his heart out to win the 17th and final race of the season, finishing 1.0986 seconds ahead of Newgarden.

Commenting on winning the race but coming up short in the championship run, the exhausted Pagenaud said,  “The final champion is someone that can bring his A game or extra A game on a given time. I thought we did just that today as a team, myself as a driver, my engineer, my strategist, my guys, my crew in the pit stops. I think we did just that.

“Of course we’re not champion as we came up short by 13 points after a whole season. Am I satisfied? No, because I want to win, but we gave everything we had.  For me to finish 13 points behind in a season where we had a lot of downs not as many ups compared to last year, I think it’s quite impressive.

“Last night, my engineer texted me and said we are going to do four stops – that surprised me and he added, ‘If there’s a yellow, that’s the best way we can win the championship.’  I’m like, all right, that makes sense, but it’s a long shot. But I was in a very attacking mode, attacking mood this weekend, and I thought, hey, why not, let’s try. And he convinced me.

“When I built a gap on Josef, 10 seconds, and then 11 and then 12, I was like, ooh, I think we have a chance. So then I thought, if we keep putting pressure, maybe something would happen. The strategy worked out really, really well. It was impressive. The car was just phenomenal all day. Grueling, tiring, and I’m exhausted right now. That’s the most I’ve ever pushed in an IndyCar race.”

Power ended up third, making it an all Team Penske podium and same for Chevrolet.

Fourth went to Dixon, who was never able to contend.

Helio Castroneves finished in fifth.

Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais and Conor Daly rounded out the top-10 finishers.

No caution flags were unfurled.


GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
SONOMA, California – Results Sunday of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (4) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
7. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
8. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
9. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
10. (13) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (15) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
12. (14) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
13. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Running
15. (22) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 84, Running
16. (12) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
17. (21) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 84, Running
18. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
19. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 69, Off Course
20. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 62, Off Course
21. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
22. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 52, Electrical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 104.968 mph
Time of Race: 1:55:52.6840
Margin of victory: 1.0986 seconds
Cautions: 0
Lead changes: 6 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders: Newgarden 1-17, Daly 18-20, Pagenaud 21-29, Newgarden 30-39, Pagenaud 40-47, Newgarden 48-61, Pagenaud 62-85

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 642, Pagenaud 629, Dixon 621, Castroneves 598, Power 562, Rahal 522, Rossi 494, Sato 441, Hunter-Reay 421, Kanaan 403.


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