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SONOMA, California – It couldn’t have been scripted any better for Team Penske. Of course, it turned out just the way Team Penske scripted it.
Simon Pagenaud won the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to conclude the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, while Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden finished second to wrap up the championship.
As agreed to in the team’s pre-race strategy session, Pagenaud ran a four-stop strategy to perfection in beating 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.
Newgarden, the points leader heading into the race and pole sitter, stuck to the more traditional three-stop strategy and was rewarded with the runner-up finish in the race that earned his first season title and the $1 million champion’s prize. Newgarden’s margin of victory in the final standings was 13 points over Pagenaud and 21 over third-place Scott Dixon as the Verizon IndyCar Series crown was decided in the season finale for a 12th straight year.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who made his 100th career start today and became the first American champion in the Verizon IndyCar Series since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012.
“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.”
he championship is the 15th for Team Penske, the most decorated team in Indy car history. Newgarden, in his first season with the team, 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 drivers to win an Indy car title under the Team Penske banner.
“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 on the varying strategies. Meanwhile, their other teammates filled key predesigned roles as well. Will Power played wing man and had Newgarden’s back. Helio Castroneves hounded Dixon – the only non-Penske driver in serious title contention – to make sure the Chip Ganassi Racing driver couldn’t make a run at the race win and championship.
Power finished the race in third to give Team Penske a podium sweep. Dixon did get past Castroneves late for fourth place, which settled the four-time champion into third place in the final 2017 standings.
“It seemed like the (No.) 3 (Castroneves) just covered us,” Dixon said. “Whenever we pitted short, they pitted with us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got clear track, we were able to hunt them down. But all day, as soon as we got in traffic, the car got really loose.
“Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew. It was a strong season. Obviously not where we want to finish in the championship, but congrats to Penske and Josef on a job well done.”
The decisive race moment came when Pagenaud made his final stop from the lead for fuel and tires on Lap 64 in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. 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 an Indy car season. Tony Kanaan was the first, completing 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.”
Castroneves wrapped up fourth in the standings by finishing fifth in the race in 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.
Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, earned fifth place in this year’s standings, with Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sixth. Andretti Autosport secured the next three positions in the championship, with Alexander Rossi seventh, Takuma Sato eighth and Ryan Hunter-Reay ninth.
The race also marked the conclusion of the competitive aero kit era that began in 2015 between Chevrolet and Honda. INDYCAR has developed a universal aero kit to be used by all teams in 2018.
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.