MONTEREY, Calif. – The NTT IndyCar Series championship is at stake this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but the four remaining title contenders seem like a relaxed and confident bunch.
Series leader Josef Newgarden illustrated that by paraphrasing an old Muhammad Ali quote.
“With no self-belief in your own ability or talent fear can creep in,” the Team Penske driver and 2017 series champion said. “You’ve got to believe in what you can do. I believe in myself, I know I’m capable. I know our team is capable. We’ve got all of the right people around us. We’ve got the best of the best.
“Everyone’s going to say that, but if you think that and feel that as a driver, then why not feel confident that we can go out and do the job. Sure, something can go wrong and maybe it won’t happen, but I feel confident we can do what we’ve done all year and come out as champions.”
Newgarden enters Sunday’s 90-lap race with a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and a 42-point margin on Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing still is mathematically eligible for the title, but his only chance is to win the race and have Newgarden finish in the bottom couple of positions in a 24-car field.
“So there’s not much left other than to try to go out and win the race,” he said. “That’s about all we can do.”
Dixon got off to a good start today, posting the fastest lap around the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course. Of course, it was just the first two hours of what will be a six-hour open test day, and there are still two practices to come Friday and another on Saturday in advance of NTT P1 Award qualifying.
In today’s first practice, Rossi was fifth, Pagenaud sixth and Newgarden 16th. The second session begins at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. PT).
Pagenaud said his crew has shown the ability this season to finish off the year with a championship.
“I’ve won Indy, I’ve won a championship before (in 2016), I’m with the best team,” he said. “This is a track where I’ve done really, really well in the past, and a track that I really enjoy. When I enjoy things I do them really well. That’s why I think I can be the man to beat.
Rossi made light of the fact his pressure is building from within.
“It’s funny, my dad called me and said, ‘Oh yeah, your grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins are all staying at your hotel (this weekend),’” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Ohhh, really?’”
Joking aside, the native of nearby Nevada City, Calif., considers his family and local support to be a positive as he races for his first NTT IndyCar Series championship.
“It’s great and it’s cool because I’m lucky to have the race in Long Beach, which is a kind of like a pseudo home race, and I was lucky to have Sonoma the past couple of years and now here,” he said. “As a California boy, it’s pretty special to have two races (on the schedule).”
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).