- Josef Newgarden earned his second victory of the season by winning the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on Saturday night.
- Pato O’Ward didn’t enter Victory Lane, but he also was a big winner of the night by taking the championship lead by 10 points over Alex Palou.
- Nine of the 24 cars that started the race didn’t finish.
The race IndyCar drivers feared and fans hoped for happened in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Major attrition – nine of the 24 cars that started the race didn’t finish it – also led to a major shakeup in the NTT IndyCar Series standings as the series now has three races remaining before the 2021 season champion is crowned.
Josef Newgarden was the biggest beneficiary of the attrition, holding off Pato O’Ward to take his second win of the season and third career triumph in six starts at the suburban St. Louis track.
“Definitely, Team Penske’s good here,” Newgarden, who is right back in the hunt for his third career IndyCar title since 2017, told NBCSN in victory lane. “We wanted to get back into this fight. I’m so proud of this team.
“I’m super-pumped by our fuel mileage, our reliability and everyone did a great job. We’ve got to keep it going. We know this is going to be a climb in the last four events and it goes a long way tonight.
“It’s big. Any win is important for the year. We’ve always got a fight where we’re at. I always have faith that we can win a race.”
Newgarden came into the race 55 points behind points leader Alex Palou. He now is just 22 points behind new points leader O’Ward. Newgarden gives team owner Roger Penske his second straight win, following Will Power’s victory last Saturday on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Newgarden led 138 of the 260 laps, captaining a major Team Penske effort, as Power finished third, followed by rookie Scott McLaughlin in fourth and Simon Pagenaud rallied from early-race contact with Newgarden to finish eighth.
“I was really happy for third,” Power said. “We really struggled. I was happy with that all shook out. I thought if I finish P3 I’ll be really happy. I got the most out of my day and my car.”
Rounding out the top-five in the race was Sebastien Bourdais.
As for O’Ward, he is now the hunted rather than the hunter, leading the standings with a 10-point edge over Palou (after entering the race 21 points behind Palou and in second place).
“It was a very solid points day for us,” O’Ward said. “We really maximized what we could out of our car and race. … Great race, great crowd and really a solid day for us.”
This ends three straight weekends of racing. The sport has two weeks off before one final stretch of three straight races: Portland (Sept. 12), Laguna Seca (Sept. 19) and the season finale at Long Beach (Sept. 26).
Palou, Dixon suffer big hit to championship hopes: After leading pretty much a charmed life in most of the first 11 races, Alex Palou took a big hit in the points for the second straight race.
Palou, who had nearly a 50-point lead prior to last weekend’s road course race at Indianapolis, drops to second place behind O’Ward, 10 points back after being knocked out of Saturday’s race in a three-car wreck on Lap 67. Newgarden is third (-22), defending and six-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon is fourth (-43) and Marcus Ericsson is fifth (-60).
Rinus VeeKay got into the back of Palou’s car, putting him into the wall, and also collecting Dixon.
Dixon came into Saturday’s race in third place, 34 points behind Palou. He is now in fourth-place, but lost only nine points in the overall standings to the leader, now 43 points behind O’Ward.
“I was on the outside and suddenly got hit,” Palou told NBCSN. “That’s what I felt. I had plenty of room with Scott and Scott had plenty of room with the guy in front of him, and we just got hit. There was no space there. I don’t know where they (VeeKay) wanted to go.
“We were having a great day, starting 21st after the penalty (he was up to 10th by Lap 28). It was hard to get up to the top 10. We just wanted to have a clean race and just wanted to get some points and I felt we had a good race car. There was nothing we could do today. Just a shame that it played out like that.”
As for the tightened points race, Palou said, “We came from 21st to 10th, so we did our job. We got hit but that’s racing. There are still three races to go and we’ll try and get that championship home.”
While Palou’s night was over, Dixon’s team took the car to the garage to see if it could make enough repairs to salvage at least a few points.
He eventually came back out on-track but after several laps, it was determined he wouldn’t be able to gain much more in terms of points and Dixon’s night came to an end.
“We even changed diffs (differentials),” Dixon told NBCSN. “We tried to fix what was wrong with the car and get back out there. It took us almost 80 laps to fix it, so we ran until we could make up the spots we could and that was it.
“It’s unfortunate. I feel really bad for myself and Alex. I don’t know what VeeKay was trying to do there and it took both of us out of the race. I don’t know if Race Control will do anything about this. We’ve had some pretty erratic, pretty crazy driving this season but it just seems to go unnoticed.”
But Dixon isn’t giving up on repeating last year’s title or to earn a potential record-tying seventh championship in the upcoming final three races of the season.
“It’s going to be tough obviously, we’ve got to try and make the most of it,” Dixon said. “We’ll see how the rest of the races play out, but if we can have three strong races to finish the season, we’re still in the fight. We’re not out of it, so we’re going to keep digging.”
Dixon finished 19th, Palou was 20th and VeeKay was 21st.
O’Ward did an outstanding job avoiding being part of the Palou-Dixon-VeeKay wreck. He looked as if he was going to try and go three-wide, but backed off at the last second, just before the other drivers made contact – arguably one of the smartest moves O’Ward has made all season.
Drive shaft costs Herta the win: Colton Herta was leading the race when he pitted on Lap 186. Unfortunately, the young driver spun the tires while he was exiting his pit stall and broke the drive shaft in the rear of the car, ending his night.
It also ended Herta’s bid for his first career win on an oval and to also potentially overtake his father Bryan’s career wins total in IndyCar competition.
“There’s nothing I could have done there, I imagine the part just mileaged out,” Herta said of the drive shaft failure to NBCSN. “It was so fast and we were so good at saving fuel. We were going to go a lap longer and were faster than (Josef) Newgarden.
“It’s a fluke thing. It’s just frustrating it happens when we were in the league. We haven’t had the best string of luck in the last couple weeks. Hopefully, we can turn it around in the last three (races).”
Herta finished 18th, his third finish of 13th or worse in his last four outings. He is now sixth in the standings, 111 points behind O’Ward.
Rossi’s bad luck continues: If it wasn’t for bad luck, Alexander Rossi likely would have no luck at all.
Rossi’s struggles this season continued Saturday, even though he did look promising for a while. He had worked his way into the top-five and got into the marbles heading into Turn 2 on Lap 201. He was unable to hang on and ran into the wall, ending his night and finishing 17th.
“I just had a big wiggle at the apex and in correcting it, it moved us up half a lane and it was in the marbles,” Rossi told NBCSN. “I thought it was going to come back, honestly. It was kind of weird. It was my fault, there’s nothing more to say. It was a pretty minimum mistake but with a huge consequence.
“I think we easily could have been third. It’s a bummer, man. Just can’t catch a break. This one is on me. Just have to reset and move on.”
Marbles had been a concern for the previous several laps, with several drivers and teams talking about it on their radios. After Rossi’s wreck, track blowers were sent out to clean the surface.
Unfortunately, that came a little too late for Rossi, who continues to have his worst season in six years on the IndyCar circuit.
Rahal says Jones “ran out of talent,” led to wreck: Graham Rahal and Ed Jones were going side-by-side into Turn 1 on Lap 3 when they made contact and saw their respective days come to a premature end.
“It’s the third lap of the race, you’re pushing but there’s no need to take super unnecessary risks,” Jones told NBCSN. “I was always ahead of him turning into the corner and he just turned down on me. I’m not surprised from him but it’s just not necessary. I feel super bad for the team. For the car to be out so early on is just a massive shame. There’s not a whole lot to do there so we go on to the next race.”
Rahal, meanwhile, said over his team radio that he felt he gave Jones plenty of room. Rahal was able to get back on-track after five laps of repairs, but he was brought back into the garage when he told his team the car just wasn’t feeling right. Further repairs were deemed futile and his day was over, leaving him with a 23rd-place finish, while Jones finished last (24th).
“I broke early,” Rahal said of the incident with Jones. “He blocked me bad, as everybody could see, and I broke early into (turn) one to give him a lot of space and he ran out of talent. … Maybe he should have braked earlier and used his head, but he didn’t. I’m disappointed. … It’s inexcusable on his behalf that early, to block that hard. You saw Newgarden chop down on Pagenaud. Guys just aren’t using their heads.”
Rahal ended the interview by saying that his hopes of finishing the season in the top-five “are gone.”
Maybe it’s time to be no more Mr. Nice Guy: Simon Pagenaud, who has yet to sign a new contract with Team Penske, once again had an incident with a teammate for the second time in the last three races.
At Nashville, Pagenaud contact with Will Power. Saturday, shortly after the race went back to green following the Rahal-Jones incident, Pagenaud and Newgarden clipped each other on Lap 16. Part of the front wing from Pagenaud’s car came off and struck the aeroscreen of Alexander Rossi.
Pagenaud said of the incident it was “unbelievable” over the team radio.
Newgarden was able to continue on, while Pagenaud pitted three laps later to quickly replace the wing, and rebounded to finish eighth.
Carpenter needs a hammer after wreck: Making his first start since the Indianapolis 500 nearly three months ago, team owner Ed Carpenter had two incidents.
First, Carpenter made contact with Dalton Kellett on Lap 13 as the race was about to go back to green after the Rahal-Jones incident. It appeared Carpenter got under Kellett as Kellett abruptly slowed down as the cars ahead of him were slowing down heading into Turn 1.
Both drivers were able to continue – well, for at least a while for Carpenter. On Lap 57, Carpenter lost control of his car between turns 3 and 4 and backed into the wall in a single-car incident. Carpenter finished 23rd while Kellett wound up 12th.
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