Newgarden leads four-driver fight for IndyCar title

San Francisco (AFP) –


American Josef Newgarden, leading a four-driver title fight, chases his second IndyCar series title in three years in Sunday's season ending Grand Prix of Monterey.

The 90-lap feature over the 2.258-mile Laguna Seca road course marks the first IndyCar race at the famed northern California layout since 2004 and the 14th consecutive season finale to decide the title.

Newgarden has 593 points to 552 for compatriot Alexander Rossi, 551 for France's Simon Pagenaud, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, and 508 for New Zealand's Scott Dixon, the defending champion with only a slim chance at repeating.

"I'm really excited," Newgarden said. "We just need to put everything together to try and finish the season with the championship."

With twice the usual points at stake, Newgarden need only finish fourth or better to clinch the crown. Even if Rossi or Pagenaud win the race, Newgarden must finish no better than fifth for them to overtake him for the title.

Dixon's path requires Newgarden finish 23rd or worse while Rossi and Pagenaud finish outside the top five as well. Newgarden hasn't missed the top 20 in a race since 2016.

"Laguna Seca is a track I haven't raced at before, but we have tested there," Newgarden said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge because of that."

Newgarden, who has fourth victories and 12 top-five finishes this season, would join Sam Hornish as the only US drivers with multiple IndyCar season crowns since 1995.

"The IndyCar series has always been about the best drivers from all over the world competing at the highest level and that's what makes it special," Newgarden said. "I definitely remember watching Hornish win a lot of races when I was growing up and to potentially be mentioned in the same breath as Sam would be incredible."

- 'crunch time' -

Pagenaud seeks his second career points title after winning in 2016 when he captured five races. He has three wins this season, including the Indianapolis 500, Indy road race and Toronto.

"What a season it has been," Pagenaud said. "Now it all comes down to the championship race at Laguna. It's crunch time.

"Our strategy is very simple: we are going into it to win it. It's going to be full attack mode all weekend. The goal is to be the hunted so we can control our destiny. It's going to be an exciting one with the championship contenders because we're all going to put everything on the line."

For Rossi, who won the 2016 Indy 500 as a rookie, it's a chance at a first-ever season trophy after road course wins at Long Beach and Road America this year.

"There have been some highs and lows but I am very proud of what the team has accomplished thus far and we are very motivated to have our best weekend yet," Rossi said.

Dixon, chasing a sixth season title, knows he doesn't stand much chance of overtaking Newgarden but will push him to the finish.

"I still think we can move up from where we're at. That's the focus for this weekend," Dixon said. "We'll try and get the pole, lead the most laps and win the race and see where we end up."