Josef Newgarden is on a run of form on ovals unlike any other in INDYCAR SERIES history.
Newgarden has won all four oval races this season and can become the first driver since Sebastien Bourdais in 2006 to sweep the circle-track portion of an INDYCAR SERIES schedule if he triumphs Sunday, Aug. 27 in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at World Wide Technology Raceway. But Newgarden’s feat would be far more impressive, considering Bourdais won the only oval race on the 2006 Champ Car schedule, in Milwaukee.
The oval win streak by two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden already is at five and counting, as he has won all four ovals this season – Texas Motor Speedway, Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the Iowa Speedway doubleheader – on the heels of winning last August at WWTR.
Newgarden not only is untouchable this season on ovals, but he hasn’t lost a race at WWTR since 2020. He has won three consecutive NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on the 1.25-mile oval just across the Mississippi River from the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Race 2 of the 2020 doubleheader and again in 2021 and 2022.
It’s safe to say that Team Penske standout Newgarden winning this Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network) might be the surest bet of the season. He also needs the win more than ever, as he is third in the standings, 105 points behind leader Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou needs to lead by only 108 points after this race to clinch his second championship in the last three seasons.
But if Newgarden’s impregnable oval speed drops Sunday in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, who are the leading candidates to replace him in victory lane at WWTR?
- Scott Dixon: The Iceman is the last driver not named Josef Newgarden to win at WWTR, as he captured the first race of the doubleheader in 2020. Dixon also has shown sharp form this season on ovals in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, with finishes of fifth at Texas and sixth at the Indianapolis 500 and in both Iowa races. Dixon is second in the standings, 101 points behind teammate Palou, so he needs a victory just as badly as Newgarden to keep alive his hopes for a record-tying seventh championship.
- Takuma Sato: Taku’s “no attack, no chance” style has worked well in the past at WWTR, as he won this race in 2019 while driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and won an NTT P1 Award here in 2020. This will be his final start of the season, as he is competing in the oval events this year in the No. 11 Deloitte Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing as rookie Marcus Armstrong competes only in road and street course races. Sato, 46, has not announced his plans for beyond this season, so this would be a poignant, emotional victory if he pulls it off.
- Will Power: Reigning series champion Power also is a past winner here, in 2018. He also has won four career poles at WWTR, more than any other INDYCAR SERIES driver. But ovals have been a mixed bag this season for Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, as he has finishes of 16th at Texas, 23rd at Indianapolis, and fifth and second at Iowa. Plus, qualifying speed isn’t the best barometer of race performance at this track. Only three drivers have won this race from the pole: Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, Gil de Ferran in 2002 and Helio Castroneves in 2003. Castroneves is the only member of that trio still active, making the final WWTR start of his illustrious INDYCAR SERIES career Sunday in the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing.
- Pato O’Ward: O’Ward never has won an INDYCAR SERIES race or pole at WWTR, but it remains one of his best tracks. The Mexican finished third and second in the two doubleheader races in 2020, second to Newgarden in 2021 and fourth last year. This might be the place if O’Ward is going to break through for his first victory of the season in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
- Alex Palou: It would be foolish to rule out Palou for victory at any track during this juggernaut of a season. While he’s still winless for his career on circle tracks, only Newgarden has scored more points this season on ovals than the Spaniard in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. And if Palou wins this race, he will clinch his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship and become the first driver to seal the title with at least two races to spare since Cristiano da Matta in 2002.
Regardless of the winner Sunday, expect another ultra-competitive race on the 1.25-mile oval. Last year’s race featured 13 lead changes, 520 on-track passes and a margin of victory of .4708 of a second between Newgarden and charging rookie David Malukas. There have been double-digit totals of lead changes in five of the seven races at WWTR since the series returned there in 2017 after a 14-year hiatus.