Tennessee's Josef Newgarden eyes consistency in wild IndyCar season

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - Another week, another driver atop the points standings in this extraordinary IndyCar season.

Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing overtook Team Penske's Will Power and moved back into the points lead after a second-place finish Sunday at Road America. The points lead has changed hands after each of the past six events.

"Yeah, I'd like to stop that," Ericsson quipped after the race.

Ericsson is assured of remaining atop the standings for at least a little while because the IndyCar series is taking the next two weeks off before heading to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 3.

After that, anything's possible this year.

Drivers say the IndyCar field is as balanced as it's ever been. That's evident from all the shuffling at the top of the standings each week. All that depth makes consistency more important than ever.

"We say every year it's the closest competition we ever had. Somehow it keeps getting tighter," said Team Penske's Josef Newgarden, the Nashville native whose Road America win came with a $1 million bonus because he has won on all three types of courses that IndyCar runs: oval, road and street.

"It must be just the development of this car has really hit a fine point," Newgarden said in explanation of the parity. "You're just constantly tuning little things now, millimeters of changes. The driving style is getting tighter with simulators, all this stuff you can analyze. It's impossible to hide something from the competition. Yeah, it is very difficult to win these races consistently."

Newgarden has won three of the first eight races, yet the two-time season champion is only third in the points standings, behind Ericsson and Power. Newgarden's limitation is that he has finished 13th or lower in four races, including a low of 25th on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course.

"It's been a little bit too up and down for us, kind of feast or famine," Newgarden said. "I think we genuinely had the potential for four or five wins up to this point. So we've done three of the potential five, let's say. The other ones that we weren't winning, we were finishing too far back. We've got to up our consistency."

Other drivers near the top of the standings hurt themselves in that regard at Road America. Alex Palou, who won at the Wisconsin course last year on his way to the series championship, got knocked out of contention Sunday after tangling with Ericsson in the opening laps and finished last in the 27-person field.

Power ended up 19th after Devlin DeFrancesco hit him from behind eight laps into the race.

Pato O'Ward's engine failed with six laps remaining and finished 26th.

"We weren't having the smoothest of days anyway," O'Ward said. "We made some mistakes in the pits that cost us positions, and we didn't really have much pace to attack."

That caused each of the three drivers to move down a spot in the points standings, with Power now second, O'Ward fourth and Palou fifth.

"Obviously Will and Pato and Alex, I think all three of them had bad days," Ericsson said. "That's good for us, since they were the closest ones in the championship going in. But, yeah, like we said, it's going to swing a couple more times. It's a matter of being consistent now, bringing home the results."

The season still hasn't quite reached its midway point with 10 races left on the schedule, so there's still plenty of time for more shakeups in the standings. And in a year when six drivers won the first seven races, the victories figure to continue to be spread out among several contenders the rest of the way.

The deciding factor just might be which drivers manage not to fall too far back in the pack on those weeks when they don't win.

"We need to win a couple more races before the year is out because of the way the first part of the season went," Newgarden said. "We definitely have wins on the board. But definitely more than wins, consistency is going to rule the day this year, for sure."