Streets of Detroit

Those with designs on winning this season’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship might be wise to make hay in the next four races. After that, Josef Newgarden will be on the charge – if he isn’t already.

The rest of the season features six of the 12 races on oval tracks, and Newgarden has won nine of the past 12 oval races over the past four seasons, including last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge for the second consecutive year.

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Newgarden, a two-time series champion, was dealt a significant blow last month when he was stripped of his victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding and the 53 points went with it. But he enters this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear with momentum and is just 61 points out of the series lead.

There is a street race and three road course races in the stretch at hand, and it’s not like the Team Penske star can’t continue his climb toward the top of the standings. He has won races in three of the four upcoming events – we’re counting the 2019 victory on Detroit’s former circuit, at Belle Isle Park – and he figures to be in contention in each.

After this stretch comes Newgarden’s golden opportunity to pounce. There’s a doubleheader at Iowa Speedway, where the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Astemo Team Penske Chevrolet won both races last year and easily could be working a double-double over the past two years. He has won three of the past four races at World Wide Technology Raceway (site of the Aug. 17 race) and four times overall, and then there are three oval races to end the season (two at the Milwaukee Mile on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 and one at Nashville Superspeedway on Sept. 15).

Newgarden’s post-race comments at Indianapolis Motor Speedway illustrate the focus he has in the aftermath of the St. Petersburg disqualification.

“They can say whatever they want at this point,” he said on the NBC broadcast. “I don’t care anymore.”

The “500” victory gave Newgarden 30 career wins, breaking a tie with Rick Mears. Newgarden is now one of six drivers in history with that many race victories plus at least two Indy wins and two series championships. The others are A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr. and Dario Franchitti. Heavy company, to be sure.

Now the march to the series title begins in earnest. Newgarden, who is seventh in the standings, is on the move and eagerly awaiting the large oval stretch that awaits.

Other key storylines heading to the weekend that culminates with Sunday’s 100-lap race (noon ET, USA Network, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network):

Setting Table for Title Run

Newgarden isn’t the only driver seeking to join the list of 12 with three or more series championships. Teammate Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet) also has two season titles, as does Alex Palou (No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda), who heads to the summer stretch with a 20-point lead over teammate Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda).

Dixon, of course, is driving toward an even higher plateau. With six season titles, Chip Ganassi’s veteran stands just one shy of Foyt’s all-time mark, and Dixon, like Newgarden, Palou and Power, has reason to be optimistic about his championship hopes this year. With six series wins, he is the winningest driver in the history of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, site of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid on July 7, and no one has more series victories at Nashville Superspeedway, where the season finale will be held. Dixon won the most recent three races on the 1.33-mile oval.

Dixon finished third last Sunday in the “500.”

Palou’s fifth-place finish at Indy upped his streak of top-eight series finishes to an astounding 23, with seven wins among them. He won last year’s first race on this nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown Detroit street circuit, and he is the reigning champion until dethroned.

Power’s late-race crash in the “500” cost him a boatload of points, but he still is within striking distance: 26 points out of the lead. He finished second to Palou last year in Detroit.

These four drivers have combined to win the past seven series titles and 10 of the past 11.

Other Drivers to Watch

Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) and Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Global w/Curb-Agajanian) left Indy with different reasons to be dissatisfied. O’Ward had the lead on the last lap only to have Newgarden zip past him on the outside in Turn 3. Herta’s chance to win effectively ended with wall contact on Lap 86. He returned to the race but finished 23rd.

However, both drivers had impressive months at IMS, and they both seemed to have cars capable of going to Victory Lane. Both have arrived as stars of the series, something projected of them when they battled for the INDY NXT by Firestone championship in 2018, finishing first (O’Ward) and second (Herta).

Both also enter this weekend’s event with 134 points, good for a tie for fourth place in the standings.

A driver returning to the series this weekend is Tristan Vautier, who last participated in the 2017 race at Texas Motor Speedway. The Frenchman will drive the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Twelve of Vautier’s 31 series starts have been with Dale Coyne’s team.

The other driver changes for this race are Jack Harvey returning to the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, rookie Theo Pourchaire back in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, and Castroneves driving Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 66 AutoNation/Arctic Wolf Honda.

Palou Won New Downtown Street Race

Last year’s Detroit race was the first staged on the new downtown street circuit, and achieving success was about more than having a fast race car: It required large doses of muscle and mettle.

The bump on driver’s right at the end of the long straightaway was only part of the challenge. Drivers often used the hairpin at Turn 3 to push their way past opponents.

That spot in the road was where Callum Ilott, then with Juncos Hollinger Racing but not participating this weekend, got into the back of Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood (No. 27 AutoNation Honda), and both drivers were forced to pit for wing replacements. Later, Power completed a terrific move on Palou, who shortly thereafter returned the favor in the same location. Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi, who were then teammates at Arrow McLaren, also had a notable tussle in that corner.

The tightness of the circuit was troublesome for several drivers. O’Ward hit the Turn 9 wall trying to work past Santino Ferrucci (No. 14 AJ FOYT/SEXTON PROPERTIES Chevrolet) in a bid to stay on the lead lap. Romain Grosjean, then driving for Andretti Global but now in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet), also had left front wheel contact in Turn 4. Graham Rahal’s race with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ended similarly with the right front corner. Rahal will be driving the No. 15 iPocket Honda this weekend.

Palou, the pole winner, emerged with the victory by 1.1843 seconds over Power. The win was the sixth of his career in the series and was part of him winning four races in five starts – the first of three in a row – that propelled him to a runaway second series title.

Power finished second with Rosenqvist third. Rosenqvist is now driving Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda and ninth in the standings. Team Penske’s Power is third.

Chevrolet vs. Honda

This Detroit event and next month’s race at Mid-Ohio are battlegrounds for the two engine manufacturers who call those areas home. This circuit winds around the Renaissance Center, which is General Motors’ global headquarters, while the Mid-Ohio road course is a short drive from Honda’s Marysville (Ohio) plant.

Chevrolet and Honda have split the past 10 races at Mid-Ohio, but Honda has had the upper hand of late in Detroit. At the latter, Honda has won seven of the past 10 races, including last year.

Honda and Chevrolet each took one of the May races at IMS, with Palou winning the Sonsio Grand Prix and Newgarden winning the “500.”

The Weekend Schedule

After nine days of on-track action at IMS, the series gets back to its normal routine this weekend.

The first practice is Friday at 3 p.m. ET. Saturday, the weekend’s second practice will be at 9:10 a.m. with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 12:15 p.m. The pre-race warmup is set for 9:30 a.m. Sunday. All the action will be live on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

The 500th race of what is now INDY NXT by Firestone will be Sunday at 10:20 a.m. (Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network).