INDIANAPOLIS – For the last several years, the Verizon IndyCar Series has been searching for that next young crop of American drivers. Well, after five races into the 2018 season, it appears that they have found it.
As we head into the Indianapolis 500, the years biggest race in the world, just two points separate American Josef Newgarden from another American Alexander Rossi on top of the standings. Newgarden, is the defending series champion and has already won two races this season. Since last July, he’s batting almost 500 in terms of race wins (5 for 11).
In that same time frame, Rossi has not only two wins but nine top six finishes too. Yes, that right, Rossi has finished outside the top six just twice in 10 months.
That’s why both are 1-2 in the standings heading into the ‘500 and that the gap is just two points between them.
Newgarden’s lead though could have been a bit bigger. The Team Penske driver made a rare mistake when he tried to pass Sebastien Bourdais for third place with 30 laps-to-go in Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix. Instead of being fourth at the very worst, he fell to the back when he spun and stalled in Turn 12. He would charge up to 11th, but he’s still never finished inside the top 10 in this race.
“We had a podium car, for sure,” said Newgarden. “It’s tough to throw it away. I think I got too greedy. I had two or three runs on (Sebastien) Bourdais. I just got frustrated and too greedy. I thought he was going to give me a little more room. He gave me some, but it wasn’t enough. It is my fault, I think I ruined a podium finish for the No. 1 Verizon Chevy team. But, we recovered what we could. The Chevy power helped.
Meanwhile, Rossi was fast in practice on Friday, top three in both, but he only qualified eighth. He said that they went heavy on downforce and had to get by in the 85 Lap race. The Andretti Autosport driver would finish fifth.
“I really thought we could get it,” Rossi said after the race on battling for a podium. “It was a great fight with Rob (Wickens) and I. He got the best of me this time. It was a great bounce back after being 18th in the morning warmup.”
So, with such a great start where the duo have combined to win three of the five races so far, is it too early to focus on the title?
“We’ve got the equivalent of four races coming up in the next really three weeks,” Rossi told me. “It’s still too early at this point. We’re just trying to focus on the ‘500 and get the best out of it.”