Home / AJ Hecht / Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta Come Out on Top in Monterey in IndyCar 2019 Finale
(Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR Media)

Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta Come Out on Top in Monterey in IndyCar 2019 Finale

It was just Josef Newgarden’s year.

In relatively unspectacular fashion, the Team Penske driver joined the likes of Al Unser Jr., Bobby Unser and Alex Zanardi as a two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion with an eighth-place finish at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Beating out the likes of Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, Newgarden went wire-to-wire. He closed out a title chase that began with a season-opening win at St. Petersburg and ended with four victories total, seven podium finishes and two poles. 

Although he started this race on the second row, Newgarden quickly fell down the order, opting to play it conservatively over the course of the afternoon. Despite making just one on-track pass all day, the American hung on to cap off his second title in three seasons.

“I couldn’t ask for more than what I have and it is just amazing to be able to win races and drive for this team,” Newgarden said. “It’s been my dream since I was a kid. I am just really thankful for everything and everyone that has done anything for me.”

Entering the day with a 41-point lead, Newgarden failed to finish ahead of the other three title contenders who, luckily for him, never had anything for race winner Colton Herta.

Leading all but three laps on his way to victory lane, the 19-year-old successfully held off Dixon and Will Power to claim his second career win, capping off Harding-Steinbrenner Racing’s final season as an independent team on a high note.

Even from the drop of the green flag, Herta got the better of his more experienced competitors, leading the first lap while the rest of the field got around cleanly. Starting alongside each other in the second row, Rossi got the better of Newgarden on the first lap, slotting into third, with the championship leader left on his gearbox. 

Over the course of the opening few laps, the two leaders began to pull away from Rossi. They grew their lead to over three seconds while Newgarden continued to hound the No. 27 Honda.

Pagenaud, the other title contender, struggled to get by James Hinchcliffe, who continued to hold on to his top-five starting position, until the Frenchman dove into pit lane for fresh Firestones on lap 12. 

One lap later, Newgarden and Rossi joined him, with Newgarden leapfrogging his rival on pit lane. Once they rejoined the field, Pagenaud forced his way by a blocking Rossi. He then set his sights on his teammate, getting by a lap later. Rossi then dispatched the No. 2, who still held a 30-point lead in the title chase as they ran. 

On lap 18, the leader made his first stop, attempting to fend off an undercut attempt from Dixon. He rejoined the field just ahead of the No. 9. The youngster then successfully kept the Chip Ganassi Racing Honda behind him, while Pagenaud further closed the gap to Dixon. 

Will Power, who went the longest in the opening stint, managed to jump his teammate Newgarden, moving into fifth. Power, coming off his win in Portland, then pulled right up behind Rossi, eventually dispatching the No. 27. Further ahead it was Pagenaud, running on the soft-compound, red-sidewall Firestones, who cut the deficit to Dixon, on the blacks, to under half a second. Herta, up front, put a slight gap on the two.

Further back, Felix Rosenqvist, who looked to be the class of the field for most of the weekend, continued his charge from his 14th-place starting position. The rookie made quick work of Newgarden, then quickly put Rossi behind him. 

One lap later, both Newgarden and Rossi opted to make their second stops, followed one lap later by the other two title contenders.

Power, again going longer than anyone else, reemerged from pit lane ahead of Pagenaud. But then he let his teammate by to allow him to continue to chase down Dixon and Herta. 

At the halfway point, Herta still held the point, while Dixon and Pagenaud held the provisional podium positions. Newgarden, still clinging to the championship lead, sat behind Rossi in eighth.

Rosenqvist, meanwhile, continued to chase down the leaders, running fifth, only eight seconds behind.

Later that lap, Conor Daly brought out the one-and-only caution of the day with a spin in turn 1. He high-sided his Dallara on the inside curb, tightening up the field for a restart.

While the leaders all held static, there was a bit of chaos further back in the field when the green flag came back out. Santino Ferrucci plowed into the side of Takuma Sato, ending the rookie’s day – and his Rookie-of-the-Year chase – early.

As the last laps of the 2019 season continued to tick by, the front of the field stayed stagnant. Herta was leading while Dixon, Pagenaud and Power kept chasing. 

On lap 64, Rosenqvist made his last stop of the season, the first of the frontrunners to do so. A lap later, Herta and Dixon made their final stops, as did Rossi and Newgarden. Pagenaud waited one more lap while Power, running just behind the No. 22 at the time, elected to stay out longer once again.

After his stop, Pagenaud left pit road between Herta and Dixon. But he couldn’t hold the kiwi off for long, losing the position in turn 5. 

Power, who lasted two laps longer than anyone else, was able to jump both Dixon and Pagenaud in the order. He slotted in just behind the leader and began chasing down Herta up front. 

A few laps later, Rosenqvist gave Newgarden a little more breathing room, who was running all the way back in seventh, almost 10 seconds behind Rossi. The rookie was able to get by Pagenaud, putting the Swede into fourth place and further extending the Nashville native’s points lead.

At the head of the pack, Herta had his hands full with the 2014 IndyCar Series champion Power. He hung less than a second behind the rookie. 

But Pagenaud, hungry for a second title, snatched fourth back from Rosenqvist with just 15 laps remaining, then closed the gap to Dixon. Although right on the No. 9’s gearbox, Pagenaud was still stuck in fourth, needing a win for any shot at the title. He was repeatedly able to beat the Frenchman off the final corner and successfully defended his position into the turn 1 braking zone despite multiple attempts from the No. 22.

Further back, Newgarden fell back to eighth, but still maintained an advantage in the points race with just five laps remaining in the season.

Power, meanwhile, kept Herta busy by filling up his mirrors. A little too eager, the Aussie out-braked himself into the final turn with two laps remaining, leaving the rookie clear by over a second. The mistake effectively put an end to his chances, allowing Herta to cruise home to the second win of his young career.

Dixon, who kept Pagenaud behind him until the checkered flag, filled out the final podium of the 2019 season. 

Behind them, Rosenqvist clinched the Rookie-of-the-Year title with a top-five finish, his sixth of the year.

FINAL 2019 INDYCAR STANDINGS

In a disappointing end to his season, Rossi came home in sixth on the day and third in the final point standings. Rossi never really had anything for the leaders.

Sebastien Bourdais closed the year out with a seventh-place finish. Behind Newgarden, Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay each capped off their 2019 campaigns with top-10 performances.

FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF MONTEREY RESULTS

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    Colton ran a helluva race! I thought Will might have something for him at the end with slightly fresher tires, but Herta never put a tire wrong to give him the slightest opening.

    Once again, Dixon wrestles an ill handling car to hold on to a podium (against a determined and hard charging Pagenaud) – that guy is just a monster at the wheel, no wonder he’s #2 on the Champion total list.

    Newgarden did what he had to do here, but had a good season overall. Congrats to him on taking his second Championship!

    Overall, this was (IMO) a great year for Indycar – they put on a really good show pretty much every week. The rookie class was much better than usually expected (Congrats to Rosenqvist, ROY!), and bodes well for the series going forward.

    Enjoy some well deserved time off, and I look forward to the first Indycar green flag of 2020!