Josef Newgarden leads IndyCar field into the weekend at Pocono

By Kyle Magda - For Times Leader | August 18th, 2017 6:37 pm

LONG POND — Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden is on a roll in the Verizon IndyCar Series coming into this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Not only has he won the last two races, Newgarden enters Pocono as the new series points leader after knocking off two-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon from the top spot with four races left in 2017.

Newgarden scored his maiden Penske win in April at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park before grabbing back-to-back victories at Toronto and Mid-Ohio in the last month.

“I think probably Mid-Ohio stands out the best because it’s probably the best victory we’ve had throughout the year,” Newgarden said in a teleconference Thursday. “I think there’s been other moments where we could have won races or finished better and they didn’t materialize, but it’s hard to go against Mid-Ohio at this point just because it was I think our best weekend put together.”

“There’s still small areas where we could have been better over the weekend, but overall, it was the best weekend we put together, and I think it was a very strong victory for us as a team.”

Team Penske comes to Pocono as the defending winners of the race with 2014 IndyCar champ Will Power holding off pole-sitter Mikhail Aleshin in the final laps for Penske’s second win at the Tricky Triangle in four years.

Power trailed eventual series champ Simon Pagenaud by 20 points after last year’s ABC Supply 500 as his title hopes came to a crashing halt in a wreck two weeks later at Watkins Glen, allowing Pagenaud to pad his points lead and win the season finale en route to the title.

This year, the Australian-born driver sits fifth in points, 52 markers behind his red-hot Penske teammate Newgarden.

“Another win there would be huge for us in the point standings, so we’re really going to give it our all,” Power said in an IndyCar press release. “The team worked on the car a lot and we all feel it’s going to be another strong car.”

A driver running his first IndyCar race on the 2.5-mile track is Ed Carpenter Racing driver JR Hildebrand in the No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Hildebrand led 38 laps in the series last oval race at Iowa Speedway in July while getting a podium finish with a runner-up showing in his ECR machine.

“My best source of advice is the boss and teammate in Ed Carpenter,” Hildebrand said about Pocono. “He’s been each of the last three years and has a pretty good feel for what to expect and what some of the challenges are and how those challenges kind of change over the course of a weekend or with conditions or whatever.”

“I feel pretty good about being able to head in and expect we’ll be able to get up to speed pretty quickly.”

The 29-year-old driver suffered a hand injury in a last-lap crash in April’s Grand Prix at Long Beach and missed the next race at Barber, but a strong Pocono run can add more to their oval-track prowess. Hildebrand returned to full-time IndyCar competition in 2017 after taking over Newgarden’s vacated seat at ECR for his first full campaign in five years.

“Getting back to being full-time was something that I had spoken with Ed about on a number of occasions and we had been working on behind-the-scenes with sponsors and all kinds of stuff for a couple of years,” Hildebrand said about the ride. “With Josef moving over to Team Penske, that was kind of really solidified the opportunity being available and not having to create an extra seat or however that may have worked out as an alternative.”

The stars and cars of the Verizon IndyCar Series return to Pocono Raceway Saturday with a full-day of on-track activity, including qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 which can be seen live at 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

Josef Newgarden climbs from his car after winning the IndyCar Honda Indy 200 last month. Newgarden climbs from his car after winning the IndyCar Honda Indy 200 last month. Tom E. Puskar | AP file photo

By Kyle Magda

For Times Leader