IndyCar title race tightens as Josef Newgarden posts fifth win of season

AP photo by Joe Puetz / Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden enters the first turn at World Wide Technology Raceway during Saturday’s IndyCar race in Madison, Ill.

MADISON, Ill. — A rain delay saved the victory for Josef Newgarden, who earned his IndyCar-best fifth win of the season Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway and again tightened the championship standings.

Newgarden had been bumped from the lead by fellow Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin shortly before the race was stopped for rain and lightning with 43 laps remaining. After a delay of just more than two hours, the race resumed with 36 laps to go and Newgarden needed only one to get past his "Bus Bro" buddy and hold on for the victory.

"I think this 2 car crew has been very patient with me; I've lost my cool a couple of times (behind) closed doors out of frustration for us," Newgarden said. "Sometimes you are wrong time, wrong place, and I feel like that's been happening a lot this year, and it kind of happened again tonight. I felt like we put ourselves in position, it's time to close, and there was just a barrier that got in front of us.

"Fortunately we were able to get back out there, and I was so happy we were able to finish this race. Scott McLaughlin, you know, he wanted to win, too. I love that about us, we have a great relationship, and he drove me super fair there."

Although he has more than double the wins of any of his rivals, Newgarden has only been in the middle of the title hunt. The Nashville native and two-time series champion started the race on the short oval outside St. Louis fourth in the standings, 22 points behind leader Will Power, another Penske teammate.

Newgarden is now second in the standings and just three points behind Power with two races remaining. Newgarden won for the third consecutive year at this track and for the fourth time here in his career.

"Great effort, great team," Newgarden said on the radio. "Great, great effort. Perfect car."

David Malukas, a rookie for Dale Coyne Racing, put on a stunning display of picking his way through traffic after the final restart. He passed McLaughlin on the final lap to disrupt the potential Penske 1-2 finish, and had the race gone one more lap, Malukas might have had a shot at catching Newgarden for the win.

Newgarden in a Chevrolet beat Malukas in a Honda by 0.4708 second.

"They said 'Do you see them up front?', and I just see two Penskes and think 'Oh my God, they're Penskes,'" the 20-year-old Malukas said. "They were tough. They were tough to even get any kind of suck to get close to them."

With two laps to go, Malukas at last ventured into the top line of the track and found it racy enough to catch McLaughlin. He instantly lamented not trying the lane earlier.

"If I would have done that a bit sooner, maybe we could have done something for Newgarden," Malukas said. "That is a win for me, a win for the team. We started off this season a bit rough, and ever since May we've been getting better and better. We knew a podium was in sight."

McLaughlin finished third and was followed by Pato O'Ward of Arrow McLaren SP in fourth. The race began with seven drivers separated by 59 points in the standings; it ended with seven drivers separated by 58 points as O'Ward gained one.

Takuma Sato finished fifth for Coyne and was followed by Power, who had a nearly perfect first half of the race and was routing the field until a split Penske strategy pushed him back into traffic. Malukas and Sato then caught him after the final restart as the Coyne cars used fresher tires to pick their way through the field.

It was a disappointing race for the title contenders from Chip Ganassi Racing as all three lost ground in the standings. Marcus Ericsson finished seventh, Scott Dixon was eighth and reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou was ninth. Dixon dropped from second in the standings, six points out, to third in points and 14 out.

IndyCar won't race again until Sept. 4 on the road course in Portland, Oregon, the last event before the season finale the following week in Monterrey, California.