Sept 17 (The Sports Xchange) - Simon Pagenaud did what he had to do to win IndyCar’s season championship Sunday at Sonoma Raceway in California. But so did Josef Newgarden.
Newgarden took the series title because he stayed within striking distance of Pagenaud, who needed to win the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to have his best chance to repeat as season champion.
Pagenaud and Newgarden, Team Penske teammates, finished first and second, respectively. Newgarden won the series title, allowing car owner Roger Penske to take the Astor Cup back to team headquarters in North Carolina.
Pagenaud didn’t make it easy on Newgarden, who won the championship in his first season with the team. Pagenaud went with a four-stop fuel strategy and used a shorter final stop to grab the lead from Newgarden. The key lap came with 23 laps to go, when Pagenaud exited in front of Newgarden.
Newgarden had the warmer tires, but he couldn’t get past the Frenchman, who was making his car as wide as possible. That lap was one for the ages as Pagenaud slid around the permanent road course north of San Francisco as the tires slowly gained grip.
After that battle, Newgarden settled into second place and allowed the championship to come to him. In the scenario presented to him, he only needed to finish in the top three to achieve the season crown. The separation at the finish was 1.1 seconds.
Newgarden finished the 17-race season 13 points ahead of Pagenaud. Newgarden rebounded from a crash exiting the pits two weeks ago at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Newgarden became the third Penske driver in four years to win the title; the others were Will Power in 2014 and Pagenaud last year. Before that, Team Penske’s last champion was Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.
Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Will Power also went into this race with legitimate chances to win the championship, but they did not have the speed on this day to match Pagenaud and Newgarden.
Power finished third in the race, Dixon fourth, Castroneves fifth. The order in the standings was Dixon in third followed by Castroneves and Power.
The fear going into the race was that there would be roughhousing in the climb up the first hill, a notoriously trouble spot for carnage. That did not happen.
There were no incidents that created a situation where race control needed to throw a full-course caution. Thus, the 85-lap race went the entire way without stoppage.