Newgarden dominating season and championship with win at Gateway

The last oval of the season is always a bittersweet one, and luckily at least this time, put on a decent show as well. If you managed to stay up until the past-midnight finish, you were in for treat. At least for most of it.

Penske’s “rookie” and the Champion leader, Josef Newgarden took the win on Saturday night, clenching his spot in the fight for the title.

(Here is where I would put a gif of Newgarden winking at the camera during the driver introduction interviews before the race start. If you find it–feel free to comment with a link.)

But the start of Indy’s return to Gateway wasn’t nearly as promising. The newly repaved track was proving to be more of an ice rink than a race track as Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan found out the hard way, losing it on the warm up laps and putting his rear wing into the wall, which also caused the beginning of the race to start under caution.

As the track and tires didn’t have a chance to properly adhere, the problems continued when the track returned to green. On Lap 5, Penske’s Will Power lost the rear end of his car and goes spinning along with ECR’s own Ed Carpenter and Andretti’s Takuma Sato.

What was the most shocking and terrifying moment was watching Power’s car hit the wall, and Carpenter’s airborne car land on top of the cockpit. The viewers appeared to have all held their breath as we waited to see if Power was moving when everything finally was still on the track. He exited the car and was medically cleared shortly after, but the “crash-landing” brought some heat on social media with fans asking for attention to the open cockpit and working on ways to keep the drivers more safe in the car.

This same thought was brought up after Ganassi’s Scott Dixon’s near-death escape at the 500 and Dale Coyne’s Sebastien Bourdais’ crash during 500 qualifying that took him out of the season up until this weekend. There have been a lot of “almosts” on the IndyCar circuits, and people want to make sure they stay as almosts.

All three were out of the race after the cleanup, and it created a severely slow start to the Bommarito 500.

The race was not without other incidences. ECR’s day of racing ended on Lap 102 with J.R. Hildebrand losing it and also meeting his race end with a wall. Ganassi’s Max Chilton also made contact with the wall and a caution was issued at Lap 170 of the 248 lap race. Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, would be the last taken out for incidents, having hit the wall and issued a caution on Lap 203. Hunter-Reay had to have been hurting after his intense crash in Pocono during qualifying last weekend.

What was the most interesting bit of the night, was Ganassi’s call to retire Kanaan, despite the fact his car was still going.

NBCSN replayed Chilton losing it on the radio at Pocono, asking why it was necessary even though they were still going–that the team could gather data and learn more about the track. It’s possible all of this has to do with funding for the Ganassi team, or the end of a partnership with the drivers as both are rumored to be out of Ganassi at the end of the 2017 season. Whatever it was, they have been perplexing calls to say the least, and it’ll be curious to see what happens with the final two races of the season.

On a lighter and more promising note , the A.J. Foyt team finally had a chance to showcase their talents, and perhaps it was catching up with themselves after the break or finally figuring it all out, but both Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly raced a great night, with both landing a top-10 finish. Munoz placed 9th and Daly managed a top 5, as 5th, behind the remaining three Penske cars and Dixon.

The two Foyt drivers have had an incredibly rough season, with both struggling to even make a top-10 finish. It’s been awful enough that Conor Daly has made a habit of hashtagging his terrible luck with “#BadLuckConor.” And as I tweeted earlier Sunday, these guys are talented drivers with crap luck and performance with their cars. They deserved a turn of luck, and I think we saw it at Gateway.

One last bit to add. This weekend marked the return of Bourdais after his earlier mentioned terrifying crash at the Indy 500 qualifying weekend. It’s been an incredibly long road of recovery for Bourdais, but he made it, and earlier than everyone had thought. Unfortunate that Esteban Gutierrez will now sit out the rest of the season, but it was great to see Bourdais back, let alone he finished 10th.

So with that all in mind, the points had a little bit of a shake up with Newgarden’s now two recent finishes. He now sits a healthy 31 points ahead of Dixon in the Championship. But that doesn’t mean it’s his quite yet. With double points in Sonoma and Watkins Glen offering another chance at some added points, the championship is still surely open to multiple contenders.

The results of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 race at Gateway:
1. Josef Newgarden (Penske)
2. Scott Dixon (Ganassi)
3. Simon Pagenaud (Penske)
4. Helio Castroneves (Penske)
5. Conor Daly (A.J. Foyt)
6. Alexander Rossi (Andretti Herta)
7. Charlie Kimball (Ganassi)
8. James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson)
9. Carlos Munoz (A.J. Foyt)
10. Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne)
11. Sebastian Saavedra (Schmidt Peterson)
12. Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman)
13. Ed Jones (R) (Dale Coyne)
14. Marco Andretti (Andretti)
15. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) DNF
16. Tony Kanaan (Ganassi) DNF
17. Max Chilton (Ganassi) DNF
18. JR Hildebrand (ECR) DNF
19. Takuma Sato (Andretti) DNF
20. Will Power (Penske) DNF
21. Ed Carpenter (ECR) DNF

(And with the last few races of the season, I’ll be adding the Top-10 drivers in the Championship contention.)

Top-10 IndyCar Drivers Championship Standings:
1.  547 pts – Josef Newgarden (Penske)
2.  516 pts – Scott Dixon (Ganassi)
3.  505 pts – Helio Castroneves (Penske)
4.  504 pts – Simon Pagenaud (Penske)
5.  464 pts – Will Power (Penske)
6.  436 pts – Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman)
7.  422 pts – Alexander Rossi (Andretti Herta)
8.  410 pts – Takuma Sato (Andretti)
9.  365 pts – Tony Kanaan (Ganassi)
10. 351 pts – James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson)

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