Newgarden: We’re still in the fight, plenty to play for

Josef Newgarden says he remains positive that he can fight for a third IndyCar crown despite slipping to 34 points from the championship lead with two rounds to go.

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s 2017 and ’19 champion finished fifth in the Grand Prix of Portland climbing from 16th on the grid, and comprehensively beating erstwhile points leader Pato O’Ward, who could only scratch home in 14th.

But with his other two title rivals Alex Palou and Scott Dixon finishing first and third in their Chip Ganassi Racing-Hondas, Newgarden was left somewhat underwhelmed by the weekend as a whole.

“I made a pretty big error at the end of the second caution period,” he told Motorsport.com. “I was in engine Map 8, which you use to run lean and save fuel while you’re under caution.

“At the restart [Lap 57], I forgot to come out of Map 8 so we just weren’t getting full power as we accelerated. That’s when I had to move right to defend from Dixon all down the straight and [Alexander] Rossi got by both of us into Turn 1.

“I think our potential was third, which, given the circumstances – starting 16th, and having to avoid all that mayhem on Lap 1 – was not too bad. But we ended up fifth instead of third.

“So a good day, but not a great day, and definitely not a good weekend overall. Slow in qualifying and then two of our championship rivals beat us in the race, and one of them gets the win…”

Newgarden said he and the team as a whole were left puzzled by their wretched qualifying speed which saw none of the quartet escape Q1.

“No, we still don’t really know what caused that performance drop in qualifying,” he said. “It’s really an oddball to me.

“OK, the track temperature changed dramatically, a 25degF increase between practice 1 and quali, so that’s probably part of it. We maybe didn’t account for that well enough, lost the balance compared with our competitors.

“The car was pretty understeery compared with the morning and that ties in with track temp going up.

“But I don’t know if that’s all that the problem was. I’m very surprised by how much speed we seemed to lose from session to session. Our theoretical and out-lap times were very strong in P1, and then we fell out of the mix.

“Then it picked up again for the race. I’d say our race pace was on point.”

Despite Palou now leading the title race by 25 points, and Newgarden being a further nine points behind Arrow McLaren SP’s O’Ward, the Penske driver is taking a positive outlook ahead of this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca, and next week’s finale in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“We’re still in the fight, plenty to play for here with two to go,” he said. “100 points on offer, and we’re 34 down.”

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