PORTLAND, Oregon – It had all of the makings of the race that would turn the NTT IndyCar Series championship on its lid.
Instead, Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland only solidified Josef Newgarden’s grasp on the championship.
Newgarden’s fifth-place finish after starting 13th, combined with Team Penske teammate Will Power’s second victory in the past three races, has given the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi.
“I would have liked more points, but at the end of the day, it’s not a bad result for us,” Newgarden said. “I made our bed for us yesterday in qualifying. You start 13th you kind of put yourself in a hole already, and we just tried to climb out of it today as best as possible, and I don’t think we can be mad about where we climbed to.
“It was pretty decent.”
Team Penske driver and 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud dropped from second to third, but is one point behind Rossi for second in the standings.
Scott Dixon appeared to be heading to victory, pulling away from Power on lap 50. But two laps later his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda lost power, sending Dixon into the pits. His Chip Ganassi Racing team quickly replaced the battery, but he returned to the track four laps down.
Dixon finished 16th and trails Newgarden by 85 points. That leaves him mathematically alive for the title, but for all intents and purposes he is virtually eliminated because the double points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway pays 10 points for last and 100 points for the win.
That means Dixon would have to win the pole, lead the most laps, win the race and hope Newgarden was kidnapped on his way to the track.
As for Power, he led 52 laps in the 105-lap race to score the 37th Indy car win of his career, tying him with Sebastien Bourdais for sixth place on the all-time victory list.
“It’s definitely a great day,” Power said. “It was obviously disappointed not getting pole, making that mistake yesterday, but as you see, you never know how races can turn out, and it turned out great for us.”
For the second year in a row, the first lap of the crash featured a massive crash, this time in turn one that involved James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Graham Rahal and Zach Veach. The first 11 laps of the race were run under caution before the track was ready for racing.
“I messed up,” Rahal said. “I misjudged it bad and took it on the chin. To be honest, I lost my depth there a little bit in the pack. Obviously, I misjudged it by not just a little, but by quite a lot. I’m disappointed, not just for myself but also for the guys we affected. It hurt (teammate) Takuma (Sato) as well. At the start, the pace was fine and all that, but I screwed up. I’m sorry for One Cure and everyone else.”
Rookie driver Colton Herta led the first 36 laps of the race before he was perfectly sized up for the lead by Dixon. Once in front, Dixon had a comfortable lead before the battery issue.
The race had one of three caution periods near the end of the race when rookie driver Santino Ferrucci stalled on the front straightaway on lap 98 of the 105-lap contest. Two laps later, it was back to green and Power was on his way to the checkered flag.
He finished 2.7885-seconds ahead of rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda. Rossi was third in a Honda followed by Herta in another Honda and Newgarden’s Chevrolet.
“I was just trying to pull as big a gap to Felix as possible,” Power said. “He was kind of frustrating me today. He went a lap longer, too, so I thought if he goes a lap longer, he could jump us, so I need to pull at least a three-second gap to cover the pit sequence.”
What began as an extremely frustrating season for Power has seen the driver from Australia win two of the last three races, including the Aug. 18 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
“It’s crazy how things don’t fall your way and then they start falling your way,” Power said. “It just goes through cycles. Obviously, at the beginning of this year I was doing everything I could to win races, and it just wasn’t happening.
“Now things start to fall your way, the hard work kind of pays off, and yeah, just drained and happy.”
The series pauses for the next three weeks before the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Sept. 22.