Newgarden, O’Ward Mix Pain, Pride after title accusations falters
Two drivers. Opposite shows. A shared disappointment as strange men in the battle for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship.
Josef Newgarden, the one with the longest chance to beat Alex Palou for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship with a 48-point lag behind Palou, had to be almost perfect. Meanwhile, Pato O’Ward needed a good day. Both had to bet on a poor performance by Palou.
To the credit of two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden, he has done virtually everything he can to catch up with Palou, 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion.
But a second place finish in Team Hitachi Penske’s No.2 Chevrolet after winning the NTT P1 Award was not enough for Newgarden to win their third NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship.
Newgarden finished second in the championship, 38 points behind Palou. This is the second season in a row that Newgarden has finished second behind a driver from Chip Ganassi Racing. Last season it was six-time champion Scott Dixon.
“Overall very good day, but I’m disappointed not to convert pole to victory,” said Newgarden. “To lag behind in this race, to lag behind in the championship is definitely disappointing. I think for us as a whole we have to be proud of our fight… We will be back next year.
As the weekend started in Long Beach, Calif., Third in the table, it was obvious Newgarden needed to score the maximum number of points if he was to have a legitimate shot at the Astor Challenge Cup. He achieved this goal by winning the NTT P1 Award for pole and the only bonus point that comes with it.
Once the race started, Newgarden led the first 18 laps of the race and scored another bonus point for leading at least one lap.
With Newgarden leading, O’Ward’s race got off to a disastrous start. In the first lap, O’Ward’s Arrow’s # 5 Chevrolet McLaren SP was hit from behind entering Hairpin Turn 11 by Ed Jones’ SealMaster Honda # 18.
O’Ward spun off, but a full course warning slowed the field down and prevented him from falling for one lap. However, the incident placed O’Ward at the back of the pitch and forced him to mount a heavy load across the pitch.
His charge did not last long.
On lap 19, O’Ward started to slow down on the frontstretch. The culprit was a broken half-shaft in the right rear of the car, almost certainly caused by contact with Jones 18 laps earlier.
O’Ward’s championship charge was over. Having no chance of catching up with Palou thanks to the incident on the track, he had harsh words for Jones.
“It’s not the first time he’s hit us and not the first time he’s been doing something stupid all season,” O’Ward said. “I just wish he could use his head a little more, at least respect the guys who are fighting for the championship.”
Never giving up, the Arrow McLaren SP team got down to work on O’Ward’s black and orange Chevrolet so the Mexican driver could get back on track and score as many points as possible. While he was not going to win the championship, he had a chance to retain third place in the standings.
That’s exactly what O’Ward did, passing Marcus Ericsson in the order of finish to place 27th out of 28 cars. O’Ward finished the season third in the championship standings, just six points ahead of Dixon. That’s a step higher than his previous best of fourth last year.
“We’ve had a great season,” said O’Ward. “I’m so proud of the team, I’m proud of myself. Obviously it wasn’t the perfect season, but I think that’s how it’s going to be. You have to learn from the little mistakes you made.
O’Ward, just 22, had a veteran mindset after expressing his anger at Jones for the first time. His eyes are already on the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship, and he’s ready to work to iron out the wrinkles that have kept him from being champion this season.
“I feel like it makes you stronger,” he said. “I look forward to next year. I think we have a great baseline to work on and see if we can get more wins and challenge for another title. “