MADISON, Ill. – Santino Ferrucci has been one of the surprise stories of the NTT IndyCar Series season and was perhaps the star of the show Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway.
He led 97 laps in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500, by far the most of any other driver, but his night will be remembered for a final lap incident with Josef Newgarden that cost the Team Penske driver several positions.
Ferrucci’s Honda got high in the marbles in turn three and the rookie driver dove low to get out of the marbles and that was into the path of Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevrolet. Newgarden spun in turn four and finished seventh.
After the race, Newgarden confronted Ferrucci over the incident that he believed was dangerous.
“It’s important to know that he’s a rookie,” Newgarden said when interviewed on pit lane. “What he did was, in my opinion, dangerous.
“He came directly back down to the racing line to try and block at the end, which [there] was no reason to. I gave him the position twice because I was suffering with vibrations all night and my car was getting quite difficult to drive at the end of that stint, so I let him go two times during the night.
“He’s got to learn that this is big-time auto racing. If you do a move like that on an oval, you will cause a very serious wreck.”
Ferrucci defended the move, saying he was trying to pass Tony Kanaan for third place.
“At the end there, I was really trying to get T.K. [Tony Kannan], and I lost the car,” Ferrucci said. “I wanted to get out of the marbles, and I did close the line there a little bit too much but obviously we’re fighting for two different championships and at the end of the day, I did what I had to do and save the car.
“Unfortunately, he got the worst of it, but he still finished the race and he picked up some good championship points.”
Despite the last-lap incident, Newgarden widened his lead in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings. Teammate Simon Pagenaud moved up from third to second place and is 38 points behind. Alexander Rossi’s 13th-place finish dropped him to third, 46 points out with two races remaining.
Scott Dixon was 52 out, but a punctured radiator on the first lap damaged his car. He stayed in the race until the water drained out of his radiator and then entered the garage area to repair the car. After he gained all the positions he could, the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion pulled off course and finished 20th, 112 laps down to race-winner Takuma Sato.
He is now 70 points out with two races remaining.
About 30 minutes after the race, Newgarden was asked about the incident in the formal post-race media conference.
“I already gave two cents on NBC,” Newgarden said. “I’ll be disappointed if people think I’m a whiner after giving my assessment. Rarely do I ever try and put someone in their place when I think they need to be put in their place. I think Santino needed to learn a lesson.
“This is no disrespect to fans or anyone. Most people will not understand what he did wrong in that final corner. They’ve never driven an IndyCar. They don’t know the subtleties of it. I think what he did was very risky. He needs to learn from that. I told him that. It’s really a racer’s thing.
“Hopefully he gets that. I think when you go to bigger ovals, it’s even a bigger potential problem. Yeah, like I said, I gave an assessment on NBC. That’s how I felt about it.”
As the other cars passed him for position at the checkered flag, Newgarden was asked what went through his mind?
“I was happy I wasn’t in the fence, to be honest with you,” Newgarden admitted. “I was surprised I wasn’t in the fence. The engine was still going. I wasn’t in the wall. I was trying to get it out of any stall. Thank goodness, I’m kind of straight. I can’t believe we’re still going here. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were going to be in the fence.
“I had no idea about the other cars. I was trying to stay out of people’s ways, which is what you need to do, keep my car straight and consistent, just get across the line.
“I felt fortunate the engine was still fired. It didn’t turn into a bigger disaster. I still don’t know how it didn’t.
“But fortunately, it didn’t.”