MADISON, Ill. — Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden took firm control of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with a decisive victory in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park.
But it was a controversial bump-and run pass for the lead when he knocked teammate Simon Pagenaud out of the way with 31 laps remaining that has created some friction between the two Team Penske teammates.
Newgarden went on to defeat Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing by 0.6850-of-a-second to claim his third win in the last four races and his fourth victory in his first season with Team Penske in 2017. The victory increased Newgarden’s lead over Dixon to 31 points with just two races remaining.
The dramatic pass for the win with 31 laps to go brought the huge crowd that came to the first IndyCar Series race since August 10, 2003 to its feet. Newgarden drove to the inside of Pagenaud’s Chevrolet into turn one. The two cars touched in mid-corner and that forced Pagenaud to slow down to keep from hitting the wall.
“Simon gave me a lane to work with,” Newgarden said. “I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him.
“One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out,” added Newgarden, chasing his first series championship in his sixth season and first with Team Penske. “I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately, (it) worked out well for us on the (No.) 2 car side.”
Pagenaud’s loss of momentum on the decisive pass opened the door for Dixon, in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda, to get past for second place. Pagenaud, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was understandably upset after finishing in third place.
“I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass,” Pagenaud said. “But we’re not on a road course. There, we are going 40-50 mph (slower). Here, we’re doing 190 (mph). It’s completely different story.
“Obviously, I wanted to win. We all want to win.”
In Pagenaud’s mind, he expected more respect from a teammate.
“He doesn’t have respect for me,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve never seen Scott do that to his teammates in his career, whole career. I respect the hell out of this guy here (Dixon). Four-time champ. You know you can race him. He’s a perfect example. You know you can race each other. Especially on an oval it’s quite dangerous if you have an accident.
“As a teammate I think we need to work together. Because if we don’t work together, Dixon wins the race and it’s terrible for the team. That’s the kind of thing that’s disappointing. At the moment, it’s not something I really want to talk about with him.
“But it will come to a conclusion, I’m sure.”
Newgarden led 170 laps in collecting his seventh career win, delivering Team Penske its fifth straight victory and 10th this season. It was also the 196th Indy car win for the team.