NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — IndyCar points leader Josef Newgarden has spent much of the season holding off a hard-charging Alexander Rossi.
Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud looks poised to make the chase for the championship a three-car affair.
Pagenaud moved 22 points closer to Newgarden, his Team Penske teammate, after leading 80 of 85 laps in a dominant win in Toronto last weekend. Pagenaud now trails Newgarden by just 39 points and Rossi by 35 heading into Saturday night’s race at Iowa Speedway.
Pagenaud put further pressure on Newgarden and Rossi by winning the pole Friday for the second week in a row.
The 35-year-old Frenchman beat Will Power, also of Team Penske, and Newgarden to capture his third pole of 2019 and his 13th overall.
“I’m definitely happy to be ahead of my teammates,” Pagenaud said. “Josef is my competition this year, so I’ve got to grab any points I can get. Be aggressive, show authority.”
Pagenaud hit a bit of a wall following his memorable win at the Indianapolis 500 in late May. He went four straight races finishing no better than sixth, a run that threatened to nullify the points advantage he picked up in Indianapolis.
But the No. 22 team found something in last weekend’s performance in Canada, and Pagenaud could be tough to beat if he can bring the speed he had in qualifying to Saturday’s race.
Iowa will be just the third oval of the season, with Pagenaud (Indianapolis) and Newgarden (Texas) taking the first two races. No one has ever won an IndyCar race from the pole in 12 tries at Iowa’s 0.875-mile short track, but Pagenaud is on a roll heading into the race.
“I’ve been saying that I want to live in the moment this year,” Pagenaud said. “Do it step by step and just be in the moment as much as I can, and it’s working. So just now, I’m at the level I’ve always wanted to be in.”
Newgarden wasn’t happy on Friday despite qualifying third in a performance that he flatly said “wasn’t good enough.”
Newgarden has had plenty of success at Iowa though — including one of the most dominant runs in recent memory. He led 282 out of 300 laps, a record that still stands, to win in Newton three years ago for Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden was the third-fastest in qualifying despite having issues coming through the opening turn.
Turn “1 was probably the tough one for us. We didn’t have the balance that we needed through there,” Newgarden said. “But the car was good. I think the Hitachi car has been fast. Chevy has done a tremendous job. We should have what we need, I think, for tomorrow.”
Rossi will start sixth in his No. 27 Honda, which was four MPH slower than Pagenaud’s pace. But Rossi has been nearly as hot as Pagenaud of late, winning at Road America on June 23 before finishing third a week ago.
“The Penske cars have looked really strong, which is unfortunate,” Rossi said.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports