SONOMA – At Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud won the battle but Tennessee driver Josef Newgarden won the season-long war, claiming his first Indy Car championship.
Minutes after the champagne sprayed and the confetti flew on the victory stage, Newgarden not only carried the championship trophy, but wore the Stars and Stripes as well, as a rare American driver to win the Indy Car title.
With its prestigious Indianapolis 500 and a history dating back to the days when Indy drivers also drove roadsters and sprint cars on fairgrounds dirt tracks, the series has roots as All-American as baseball and hot dogs. To be sure, the IndyCar series has its share of American drivers, such as Marco Andretti of Pennsylvania, Graham Rahal of Ohio and Alexander Rossi of Nevada City.
But in recent years, the upper levels of the sport have been more international, with drivers from Japan, Australia, England and Canada on the tour this year. When the IndyCar series got to Sonoma to end its season, the 26-year-old Newgarden, in his first season with Penske Racing, was the points leader and had won four races in 2017, leading a team that included drivers from France, Brazil and Australia.
Newgarden is only the third American driver to win the IndyCar title in the last 11 years, capping a career that began in karting and included racing in Europe before landing his first IndyCar ride four years ago.
“This started a long time ago with my parents taking me to the karting track,” said an emotional Newgarden Sunday night.
He believes that the competition in the IndyCar series, which saw seven different winners in the first seven races this year, is as strong as it has ever been and that it’s important for the series to include American drivers.
“I’ve always preached that it’s great that we have the best of the best in…