Josef Newgarden

Scoot over Rick Mears and heads up Alex Palou. Josef Newgarden is on the charge, and he’s charging fast.

In sweeping the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend at Iowa Speedway, Newgarden not only tied Mears for 13th place in all-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES race victories with 29, he sliced 37 points off Palou’s series lead. Yes, the 80-point deficit to Palou is still massive, but Newgarden can now see a path to winning a third season championship.

Five races remain, one of them being the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline, an oval race at World Wide Technology Raceway. Newgarden has won the event just east of St. Louis each of the past three years and has reached victory lane there on four occasions overall. He also is riding a five-race oval winning streak, the longest such run since Al Unser in 1970.

Fact is, Newgarden should be on a streak of seven oval wins in succession as a mechanical failure in the second race at Iowa last year sent him into the Turn 4 wall despite having a sizable lead. Bottom line: This year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner has the field’s number on ovals over the past two seasons, and he will be the heavy, heavy favorite to win the last oval race of the season.

If Palou is to win his second series title in three years, he must continue to rise as he did in Sunday’s Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade. Palou spent most of the race running outside the top 10 and was a lap down mid-race before making a late charge. The best example of that came in the three-lap shootout to end the race. Palou was fifth among the five drivers on the lead lap, but when Felix Rosenqvist and Will Power battled for second place at the restart flag, Palou deftly maneuvered past Rosenqvist and Scott McLaughlin to take third place, a gain of four points. If Palou had finished 10th, Newgarden would be another 15 points closer. Yes, every point matters.

All of this helps give shape to what now much be considered an interesting title pursuit. And, with each win Newgarden collects, he takes another step up the sport’s all-time win list. We’re certainly watching something special drivers here.

Palou Still in Command

Yes, Newgarden took a solid chunk from Palou’s series lead, which prior to the weekend was 117 points. But let’s be realistic about Palou’s chances to secure another spot on the Astor Challenge Cup: They’re still good.

Palou might not consider World Wide Technology Raceway one of his better tracks – Sunday’s finish at Iowa was his first in the top five on a short track in 10 starts – but he will have good vibes at the other four remaining venues.

Palou finished third in last year’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, the series’ next race (Sunday, Aug. 6), and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates have won both races of these street races in Nashville (Marcus Ericsson in 2021, Scott Dixon last year). In May, Palou won the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the site of the Gallagher Grand Prix on Saturday, Aug. 12.

The last two races of the season are the Portland Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway (Sunday, Sept. 3) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Sunday, Sept. 10). Palou has won races on both permanent road courses, including last year’s 30-second victory at the latter.

An 80-point lead is effectively a two-race advantage with five to go, so Palou still reigns.

Thirty for a Thirty-something

Newgarden is only 32 years old, likely to compete in this series for another decade at least.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden is averaging 3.7 wins per season, a pace which could have him at 33 wins as a 33-year-old. His win total could be somewhere in the mid-50s before he turns 40. That’s record pace.

A.J. Foyt and Dixon were 40 when they reached 50 series wins. Mario Andretti was 48. Think about this: Newgarden ties Helio Castroneves with just two more wins, and he is gaining on Power (41) faster than anyone could have imagined.

Power on Point

Power might not yet have his first race win of the season – his streak of 16 consecutive seasons with at least one might soon be in jeopardy – but he is still racking up poles.

The two Power collected at Iowa have him at an unthinkable 70. Only five other drivers in last weekend’s field have as many as 10 and only two – Castroneves and Dixon – have 20 or more. Newgarden has 16.

Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian has been the most prolific qualifier of the series’ younger generation, averaging 2.2 poles per season over the past five years. He trails Power by 59 poles and, at his current pace, would reach 70 just ahead of his 50th birthday. So, it’s fair to say Power will hold this record for a long time.

Other Weekend Highlights

Newgarden moved into second place in the standings, now 40 points ahead of third-place Dixon. With Palou’s margin on his Ganassi teammate now 120 points, it’s close to becoming a two-horse race for the title: Palou vs. Newgarden.

Dixon lost ground despite scoring a pair of sixth-place finishes over the weekend. Team Penske’s McLaughlin (second and fifth), Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward (third and 10th), CGR’s Ericsson (fourth and ninth), Power (fifth and second) and Palou (eighth and third) also had top-10 finishes both days. Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood finished seventh and 11th.

McLaughlin finished second on Saturday, the position Power ended up with Sunday. While Newgarden led 341 of the 500 laps, Power led an impressive amount (149). In short, it was a Team Penske sweep of the short track.

Rosenqvist’s fourth-place finish Sunday equaled the best oval-track result of his career. The Arrow McLaren driver also finished fourth in the 2022 Indianapolis 500.

Also important is the lack of car damage. Only a few had relatively light contact with the outside walls.

Rasmussen Controlling INDY NXT

Christian Rasmussen will take a 22-point lead over HMD Motorsports teammate Nolan Siegel into next weekend’s INDY NXT by Firestone Music City Grand Prix after winning Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Rasmussen won for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career in the series. He benefitted from Siegel having Turn 2 contact with Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea that sent Siegel’s car spinning.

Jacob Abel had a strong weekend for Abel Motorsports, winning the pole and finishing second. He is third in the championship, 43 points out of the lead with six races remaining.