Josef Newgarden on track at Mid-Ohio

If Josef Newgarden is to cut into Scott Dixon’s 72-point lead in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings and win a second straight season championship, he will need to make significant headway in this weekend’s INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Team Penske driver Newgarden might need to win at least one of the two IMS races – the first is at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday on the USA Network, the second is 2:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC – and to date he is winless on both the oval and the road course at IMS.

Meanwhile, Dixon, who drives the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, won the most recent race on 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course – the GMR Grand Prix on July 4. Newgarden finished seventh in that race.

Dixon finished second in this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and won the 2008 “500.” Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third, in 2016.

“I approach every challenge the same way -- you keep working on it and hopefully get an opportunity to break through,” said Newgarden, who will drive the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet when practice begins at 2:25 p.m. Thursday. “I’ve had that happen at other tracks. It’s hopefully just a matter of time. You can only control what you can control.

“When you put yourself in a position enough times, over and over again, one of these times it’s going to land. I feel confident we will get something at Indy, at some point. It’s a matter of being persistent.”

Newgarden believes that persistence will one day pay off, and he will win a race at IMS. He is the only member of the three-driver Team Penske trio, including Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, that has never won an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at IMS, but he doesn’t let that diminish his desire or intensity to succeed at the iconic facility.

“We haven’t had one fall (right) there, kind of like other places in the past where we haven’t had stellar results and we finally got a win,” he said. “I look at it like St. Petersburg. If you looked at my record before 2019, that stood out as a sore spot. Then I ended up winning the race last year.

“The GP is the same way at Indianapolis. We should have finished second this year. We’ve had good car speed; the team has had good results there. I don’t have any concern that we are not going to be able to go there with something to fight with. We’ve had good cars there in the past – just haven’t been able to land on the podium at the end of the day. We have to look out at the things that have bit us and try to improve them.”

Dixon (four wins) and Newgarden (two) are the only NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers to have won multiple races this season, so it’s fitting they are the two best candidates to win the season title to be crowned following the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25.

Strong results at IMS this week will be important for Newgarden because unlike recent seasons, this season finale will not award double points. For that reason, Newgarden said there is even more emphasis on the INDYCAR Harvest GP.

“It changes it massively,” Newgarden said of not having another double-points race this season. “It can either reward you really well or penalize you. In this case, it doesn’t balance the Indianapolis 500 as much. Depending on where your performance was or wasn’t at the Indy 500, you don’t have an opportunity to balance that out or increase it.

“Compared to years past, it’s a different dynamic than just having Indianapolis as the double-points race. That is now the new task for this year, we know that you have to be within 50 points at the season finale and realistically, you need to be within 20 or 30 points to have anywhere of a strong shot at it. It puts a lot of emphasis on the GP going super well for us to have a legitimate shot of it at St. Pete.”

Newgarden has had a very impressive season of consistency. Through the first 11 races, he has finished outside of the top 10 just twice. He has five top-five finishes highlighted by victories in the second Iowa INDYCAR 250s at Iowa Speedway in July and the second Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway in August.

“It’s been a good year overall, so it’s hard to really complain,” Newgarden said. “Our team has been executing super well. I’ve been impressed with everybody on pit lane. I’m impressed with (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. He is calling great races form the pit stand. We’ve just had too many that have slipped away, things outside of our control, mostly yellow flags.

“We could have had four or five wins by now, and it could have been a different fight, but we find ourselves 72 points back with three races to go. We’re still going to go for it and maximize every race. If we win three in a row and things fall our way, who knows, we could still win the championship.”