Newgarden is the 2017 Champ

Simon Pagenand won the last IndyCar race of the 2017 season at the Sonoma CA road course, but it was his teammate Josef Newgarden who came away with the series championship. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the last race of 2017, had been promoted as a possible battle between five different contenders for the #1. Newgarden was leading but only by three points. Scott Dixon was hot on his neck and Pagenand was close behind in third position. The winner of the Sonoma GP would get double point value and if Newgarden finished fourth or worse than either one of the runner ups, he could claim the championship. Pagenand, the 2016 champ, wanted to keep that number one on his car and  also stick it to his teammate for his slick move past him at Gateway that cost him the race. If Dixon won, he would be tied with A. J. Foyt for the most Indy car championships. There was a lot riding on the outcome of the race.
Newgarden won the pole, his first of 2017, and Pagenand was right next to him. As the green flag dropped Newgarden took the lead. He dominated two thirds of the race, leading 41 laps, with Pagenand close on his tail. During the last series of pit stops, however, Pagenand’s crew executed a flawless stop and Pagenand came out with the lead. Newgarden tried several times to pass his teammate but Pagenand wasn’t having it. With 8 laps to go Newgarden settled in for second place knowing that would bring him the championship. Will Power running third kept Dixon at bay in fourth place. Pagenand repeated his 2016 Sonoma win but Newgarden claimed the number #1. An elated Newgarden joined his crew for a champagne bath celebration and Pagenand held up the winner’s trophy on the podium. It was an all Penske podium—with Power finishing third.
As for the final point standings, Newgarden was first, Pagenand second, Scott Dixon was third, Helio Castroneves was fourth, and Power was fifth. As usual, Team Penske dominated the points race and the Chevy engine won the manufacturer’s trophy. Dixon was the lone Honda driver in the top five.

What About 2018?

It’s a bit early for speculation but a few things are known. One is that Tony Kaanan won’t go to Ganassi Racing. The 42-year-old Brazilian’s time with that team has not been as productive as he would have hoped. He has not mentioned retirement and is still a fan favorite. I can’t see him joining a team that he doesn’t think is competitive, however. We shall see.
It’s pretty safe bet that Verizon will not sponsor the 2018 Indycar season. Supposedly there are some other corporate entities that have expressed an interest in  taking on the series’ sponsorship but who ever it is will have to have some pretty deep pockets.
Will Helio Castroneves return to Penske? The rumors have been flying about ever since the Indy 500, when Helio let Takuma Sato beat him to the finish line by half an inch. Then as the chance to win his first IndyCar championship faded late in the year, the rumors picked up again. Helio is 42 but some say he has lost that edge that he used to have. He has never driven for anyone but the Captain so if he does leave it would be hard for him to find another team with that comfort level. He does have a few months to consider his options.
There will be a number of surprising changes between now and the first race of 2018 for the IndyCar series. There always are. We will just have to wait and see.

Horseshoe Tracks

You knew I would have to say something about the Colts loss to the Cardinals 16-13 in overtime. Of course that looked much better than the first weekend. The defense really played better with four sacks on Carson Palmer and rookie Malik Hooker getting his first career interception. Offensively new quarterback Jacoby Brissett was a big improvement over Scott Tolzien but he still has a ways to go. The offensive line still hasn’t come together and the running game isn’t there. The Colts next opponent is the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil. Who knows? Maybe a win is possible. Robert Mathis has been added as a pass rushing consultant. That’s a step in the right direction. Now if we could just get Peyton Manning away from those Nationwide insurance commercials and have him work with Brissett…..well it’s a nice dream!