For Team Penske, it was the perfect day at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud won the race to conclude the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Teammate Josef Newgarden finished second to wrap up the championship.
Pagenaud, the 2016 champion driving the No.1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, beat Newgarden to the finish line by 1.0986 seconds to win the 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway. It was the Frenchman's 11th career victory and second straight on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. A year ago, Pagenaud won from the pole position at Sonoma to sew up his first championship.
This year, it was Newgarden who clinched his first title and the $1 million champion's prize by finishing second in the race. The 26-year-old Tennessean held off Pagenaud by 13 points in the final standings to become the first American driver to win the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay five years ago.
"I don't even know what to say," said Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who made his 100th career start today. "It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It's a huge team effort at Team Penske.
"To finally get it done is a dream come true."
The championship is the 15th for Team Penske, the most decorated team in Indy car history. Newgarden joins the likes of Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr., Will Power and Pagenaud as Team Penske drivers to win an Indy car title.
"I've had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don't have a favorite," team owner Roger Penske said. "I can't compare (Newgarden) to anyone exactly. He's an American, which is special in this sport because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world. To see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting."
The race ran caution-free for the first time in Sonoma Raceway history, which now spans 14 Indy car events. Newgarden and Pagenaud each led 41 laps. Pagenaud opted for a four-stop strategy to Newgarden's three pit stops, but the Frenchman made up the extra time in pit lane by turning faster laps on an open track.
The decisive race moment came when Pagenaud made his final stop from the lead for fuel and tires on Lap 64. He returned to the track just ahead of the charging Newgarden and held on to first place as the teammates battled around the track. From there, Pagenaud kept Newgarden in his mirrors to the finish.
Pagenaud completed all 2,331 laps this season, becoming just the second driver to finish every lap in a season. Tony Kanaan was the first, when he completed all 3,305 laps when he won the 2004 championship.
"We did what we had to do," Pagenaud said. "We tried. We won the race; it wasn't enough. It's a whole championship. You've got to be strong in every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year, so we'll come back. Thirteen points. Next year we'll come back and give him a hell of a competition again."
Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, gave Team Penske a race podium sweep by placing third in the No.12 Verizon Team Penske.
"It was pretty obvious a couple races ago that we were in trouble after Gateway, so yeah, I mean, it's great for the team." said Power "Obviously, you want to be the one that wins it, but it's very tough these days, and you've got to have a very solid year to get it done, and when I look at this year, no one made mistakes. You see the top six there, top six or seven are the top six or seven almost every race. We had some ups and downs with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team, but it was a good year. We won some races and some poles. We'll give it another go next year."
Scott Dixon finished fourth in the No.9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to clinch third in the standings, 23 points behind Newgarden. It is the 11th time in his 17-year career that Dixon, a four-time champion, has finished in the top three in points.
"It just seems like the No. 3 car covered us." Dixon said "Every time we short-pitted they followed us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got into clean air, we were able to make up ground, but every time we got into traffic we got real loose. Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew obviously not the way we wanted to finish. A big congrats to Penske and Josef (Newgarden) on a job well done."
Helio Castroneves wrapped up fourth in the standings by finishing fifth in the race driving the No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Completing his 20th year racing Indy cars, the 42-year-old Brazilian is still in search of his first series championship.
"I'm always going to focus on the positive thing." said Castroneves "I'm not going to focus on Texas when we had a problem, or other races that I missed strategy or made mistakes. You've got to think about, again, it was another season that we pushed as hard as we could and another top four. And again, sometimes it's funny because you see the statistics, finished second - I finished second four times. But it was more times - the P4 is not what it represents because we were in a battle a lot more years than that. And that's what I look at. I look because each year that's what kept me motivated to come back and push hard, and that for me was hard. Sometimes it's - well, I try, but to get one - it's easy to follow from that position, but to keep up like I've been doing all these years, I think it's the hardest thing to do. But it doesn't just happen. It comes with a great team. It comes with great dedication from your guys, great trust, and obviously, myself to keep motivated, finding ways to keep pushing and having teammates like I have today, no question, helped me to become a better driver. The Hitachi Chevrolet team was great all season and I can't thank them enough for their hard work dedication."
By finishing third in the race, Power - the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion - earned fifth place in the standings.
An hour-long special documenting the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and Newgarden's championship will air at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN.
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (4) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
7. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
8. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
9. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
10. (13) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (15) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
12. (14) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
13. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Running
15. (22) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 84, Running
16. (12) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
17. (21) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 84, Running
18. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
19. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 69, Off Course
20. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 62, Off Course
21. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
22. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 52, Electrical
Winner's average speed: 104.968 mph
Time of Race: 1:55:52.6840
Margin of victory: 1.0986 seconds
Lead changes: 6 among 3 drivers
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 642, Pagenaud 629, Dixon 621, Castroneves 598, Power 562, Rahal 522, Rossi 494, Sato 441, Hunter-Reay 421, Kanaan 403.
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