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Rossi wins, Newgarden crashes at Watkins Glen IndyCar

Alexander Rossi completed a near perfect weekend with a win in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. Josef Newgarden made a critical mistake in the race that leaves the Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle wide open for the 12th straight year heading to the season finale.

Rossi won the 60-lap race at iconic Watkins Glen International from the pole position on the same weekend it was announced he would return to Andretti Autosport next season in a multiyear deal along with sponsor NAPA Auto Parts. The 25-year-old Californian led a race-high 32 laps and drove the No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda across the finish line 0.9514 of a second ahead of four-time Watkins Glen winner Scott Dixon.

Rossi overcame a malfunctioning fuel probe on his second pit stop that left him short of Sunoco E85 ethanol and forced an earlier third stop than scheduled. From there, Rossi laid down laps at near-qualifying pace, regaining the lead on Lap 29 and building an advantage of more than 12 seconds. The full-course caution for Newgarden's incident on Lap 46 bunched the field, but Rossi kept Dixon, in the No.9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, at bay over the 11-lap dash to the finish.

The victory was the second for Rossi in the Verizon IndyCar Series and first since his memorable triumph as a rookie in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

"An amazing job by the whole team today," Rossi said. "We had an issue in the beginning with the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn't matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it's pretty amazing.

"It's a huge team effort. I've talked about so much how much we've improved, I'm so happy we're finally able to win."

Dixon, in search of a fifth season championship that would leave the 37-year-old New Zealander behind only A.J. Foyt (with seven) on the all-time list, had his own eventual day but was rewarded in points with the second-place finish.

"Definitely a good move in the points," Dixon said. "I'm kind of shocked we ended up where we did.

"I locked up coming in on the first stop on the wet (tires) and it wouldn't downshift, so almost stalled the car, got into the pits and we couldn't fuel it. And then we had a fumble later - we lost another four or five spots - so we had to pass a lot of cars today. ... Nice recovery by the team, ended up second."

Points leader Josef Newgarden finished 18th after his car sustained damage in a collision leaving the pits. The Team Penske driver saw his championship lead slip to three points over Dixon with the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, offering double race points on Sept. 17, remaining. Seven drivers are still mathematically alive in the title hunt. The Verizon IndyCar Series champion has been determined in the season's final race every year dating to 2006.

Newgarden had just assumed the lead in the No.2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet when he made his final stop on Lap 46 under green-flag conditions. Will Power - whose pit stall was directly in front of Newgarden's - barely beat his teammate out of the pits and onto the narrow, curving, downhill pit exit lane.

Newgarden locked his brakes avoiding Power and slid into the guardrail separating the pit exit from the track in Turn 1 of the 3.37-mile, 11-turn permanent road course. Sebastien Bourdais, also leaving the pits in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, hit Newgarden from behind. Newgarden continued but sustained front wing and right rear tire ramp damage. Newgarden finished two laps off the pace and saw 28 points shaved from his championship lead.

"I felt like we were in a good position until that final pit stop," Newgarden said. "No excuse for it. It was my fault. I saw Will leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then (Bourdais) got into the back of me.

"It's unfortunate, but there's nothing I can do about it. We'll go to Sonoma in a couple of weeks and race for it."

Bourdais added, "I was going to be pretty high myself exiting pit lane, but I think I was going to be OK. Where (Josef) Newgarden hit, he bounced off and there was nowhere to go. I had a slight reaction, like you do, and I'm sure TK (Kanaan) had the same thing. Because of what's happening in front of you, you just touch the brakes and you're on cold tires, so there's not much you can do. I knew the race was over from that point. It's a disappointment because we drove a really good race, we had a really good first pit stop, but then we lost some positions. It's a big fight out there. I could pass, but I was going to run out of push to pass really quick. I did the best I could, but I couldn't save it there exiting the pits. We were quick, I did the fastest lap of the race, but it's just a shame we couldn't finish better."

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third in the No.28 DHL Honda to give Andretti Autosport two podium finishers.

"The guys did a really good job on pit lane today - amazing job." Hunter-Reay said "It got us a lot of track position. It was strange where the yellows fell. We had to come through the field a couple of times. All in all, we had a pretty good car, we were just lacking a little bit of front grip to keep up to these two. We have to be happy with a podium, but congrats to the No.98 team and Alexander (Rossi) on his win, he was certainly in top form this weekend."

Helio Castroneves placed fourth in the No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet and retained third in the championship, 22 points behind Newgarden.

"The Hitachi Chevy was so awesome today, and it was a great job by the No.3 car guys." said Castroneves "We were really fast out there - it's been a long time since I was able to go flat out through the carousel in the race, but we were doing that today. We had some issues on the black Firestone tires, but we were able to recover and really pushed hard there to finish fourth. I feel really bad for Josef (Newgarden) with his incident. It's unfortunate for the team, but it's mixed feelings for me because it tightens up the championship. We definitely have a good chance heading into Sonoma and I feel really good about our setup there. We'll be ready to go for it and finish strong."

Other drivers with a chance of winning the title at the Sonoma finale are: 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the standings (-34 points to Newgarden) after a ninth-place finish today in the No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

"We fought for the best finish we could today in the Menards Chevrolet." sai Pagenaud "We were really prepared for a wet race, and if it would have been run in the rain, I think we would have been tough to beat. But we just had too much downforce to run in the dry and make up the ground we needed to. Still, everyone on the team did a good job to finish ninth and we come out of Watkins Glen still in the hunt for the championship. We know what it takes to win at Sonoma and that's what we'll be fighting for (in Sonoma)."

Power, fifth in the standings (-68 points) after finishing sixth in the race in the No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

"It was just an up and down day for the Verizon Chevrolet group." said Power "There were times the car was really fast, but that first set of tires didn't agree with the car at all. I thought the car was broken. It wouldn't do anything I wanted it to. After that, it was good. I can't be unhappy about sixth. I don't know what kind of legitimate chance at the championship I have, but stranger things have happened, I guess. We'll go to Sonoma and give it everything we have. "

Rossi, sixth in the standings (-84 points); and Graham Rahal, seventh in the standings (-94 points) after a fifth-place race finish in the No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

"It was a good day." Rahal added "There was a lot of passing because a lot of us expected rain and with the downforce levels being all over the board, there were some guys that were really draggy and some guys a little more rimmed. I was right in the middle. There was a lot of passing going on all over the place. We're going to fight on here. I didn't have anything to lose (in the championship fight) coming here but as we saw today with (Josef) Newgarden, things can happen so fast. We're out of winning the championship, but we're certainly not out of finishing the top three or four. We're seventh in the points. The way I look at it is, we didn't score points in the first four races of the year, but we were the hottest team through the middle of the season and it got us back in contention. We didn't score as many points as we would have liked, but we have a lot to be proud of. We're going to be in attack mode for sure. It's a shame the last two races didn't go our way when they should have because we would have been right in the middle of the title fight, but that's the way it goes. That's racing."

The race at Sonoma Raceway offers 100 points to the winner, 80 for second place, 70 for third and down from there. Live race coverage of the epic finale begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sept. 17 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

1. (1) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 60, Running
3. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 60, Running
4. (6) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 60, Running
5. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 60, Running
6. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 60, Running
7. (5) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 60, Running
8. (19) Max Chilton, Honda, 60, Running
9. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 60, Running
10. (11) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 60, Running
11. (14) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 60, Running
12. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 60, Running
13. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 60, Running
14. (18) Jack Harvey, Honda, 60, Running
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 60, Running
16. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 60, Running
17. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 60, Running
18. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 58, Running
19. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 56, Running
20. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 46, Contact
21. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 5, Mechanical

Race Statistics:
Winner's average speed: 118.865 mph
Time of Race: 1:42:03.9024
Margin of victory: 0.9514 of a second
Cautions: 4 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Rossi 1
Castroneves 2-14
Pigot 15-22
Rossi 23
Hunter-Reay 24-27
Rossi 28-42
Dixon 43-44
Newgarden 45
Rossi 46-60

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 560, Dixon 557, Castroneves 538, Pagenaud 526, Power 492, Rossi 476, Rahal 466, Sato 421, Kanaan 375, Hunter-Reay 373.

09/04/17

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