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Josef Newgarden timing perfect in race — and IndyCar title chase

Josef Newgarden drives his car during practice for the IndyCar Series auto race Saturday, July 8, 2017, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/AP photo

Sunday’s IndyCar event in Toronto was a perfect example of how timing a pit stop just right, or not, can make a massive difference in the results of a race. That, and other takeaways highlight an interesting weekend at the lone series event outside of the United States.

Newgarden gets timing just right

On Lap 23, Tony Kanaan went off the track and into the tires right after making his first pit stop, bringing out a full-course caution. At the same time, Josef Newgarden, who was running fourth for Team Penske, stopped for tires and fuel right before the pits closed under the yellow flag. The top three at the time — leader Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal, none of whom had pitted — stopped under the yellow, and as a result fell well back in the field. Newgarden led on the ensuing restart and headed the field for all but three of the remaining laps. Newgarden won the 2015 event at Toronto under similar circumstances.

“That is twice I have had good calls and got into the pits at the right time,” Newgarden said. “Thank you to the guys and thank you to Tim (Cindric, his race strategist) for making that call. We got it right, but it was all about managing the race after that.”

A repeat of a repeat and a tight title fight

Newgarden has repeated a pattern from 2015, when he was with CFH Racing. That year saw him earn his maiden victory at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., then win again at Toronto. Now in his first season with Penske, the 26-year-old has won at the same two tracks in 2017. He was seventh in points in 2015, but this year he’s much more of a championship contender, standing fourth and trailing leader Scott Dixon by just 23 points.

Bold move, bad luck, goal closer

Castroneves made an excellent, audacious move to pass both Team Penske teammate Pagenaud and Rahal for the lead going into the right-handed Turn 1 on the first lap. That was yet another demonstration of Castroneves’ speed, skill and commitment at age 42. After being caught out by the first caution, Castroneves fought back to finish eighth and draw within three points of Dixon for the championship lead. (Dixon finished 10th; he suffered a puncture on Lap 1 when Will Power’s wounded car skidded into him,  and the early pit stop put Dixon in a hole from which he never recovered.)

In a prerace segment, NBCSN’s Paul Tracy talked to Castroneves about his future plans amid reports that the veteran might join Roger Penske’s new sports car program in 2018. The veteran Brazilian was cagey, but the phrase “nothing’s official” makes one think that those reports have some validity:

Bump and bang

Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay went at it hard late in the race, with Pagenaud bumping Hunter-Reay to make a pass under braking. Then, Hunter-Reay ducked under Pagenaud after the next corner and gave him a nudge on the way past. Neither driver indicated any rancor in postrace interviews, a rarity in those types of situations.

Hometown podium

Toronto native James Hinchcliffe gave the hometown fans something to cheer about by finishing third for the second year in a row on the downtown street circuit. Like Newgarden and some others, Hinchcliffe also caught a break when the first caution came out right after he pitted. “I’m OK with no luck, just as long as there’s no bad luck,” Hinchcliffe said.

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