What better way to put a bow on a year that’s nearing an end? By taking the first look back at the places and moments that shaped the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, of course. Here are just a few of the highlights, from start to finish. Later this month, INDYCAR.com will rank the 10 top moments of the season:
Moments before the 2019 season opener, former NFL player and coach Tony Dungy stepped from the two-seater, vowing with a smile never to do it again.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Once is enough.”
His driver, Mario Andretti, disagreed. “I think we can coax him into it,” he said with a laugh.
Josef Newgarden didn’t need coaxing during the hours that followed. He began his run to the championship that day, beating Scott Dixon to the finish line and making up for what he saw as a poor performance in qualifying the previous day.
“If you drive for Team Penske and you've been in the series for a while … and you have a winning car or a pole car, you're not satisfied with anything but that,” Newgarden said after winning. “It's not that it was the end of the world, but you want to be able to get the most out of the car and yourself in any given day, and if you fall short of that even just slightly, it's disappointing.
“I think we got everything we needed to out of today.”
Circuit of The Americas
As Colton Herta celebrated his first victory by jumping from his car, Bryan Herta stood quietly, several yards from the tumultuous celebration, taking in his son’s success in just his third IndyCar Series race.
“I’m so proud,” Bryan Herta said while watchIng the celebration. “Incredibly proud of him and the whole team. There’s so much that goes into one of these races. He just did an amazing job.”
Not far away, as the Harding Steinbrenner Racing pit box erupted in tears and high fives, HSR president Brian Barnhart marveled at the stunning victory by the 18-year-old rookie.
“When you look at that kid, I’m not sure he’s 18,” Barnhart said. “They say he turns 19 next weekend, but I don’t know. Beyond his years is an understatement. It’s very special, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Barber Motorsports Park
The image that emerges from that Sunday in April is Takuma Sato hugging a stunned and thrilled boss, David Letterman.
Sato had just prevailed over Dixon on Barber’s demanding circuit, scoring the fourth IndyCar Series victory of his career and reiterating his motto: no attack, no chance.
“Coming to this weekend my team says, ‘We want to come here to plan to dominate,’” Sato said after the victory. “Of course, we wanted to be competitive, but after seeing a couple of road-course tests and the race at COTA, we thought we could be maybe top five, but we never expected to be front row, which is fantastic.
“This is motor racing. This is the science behind it, but this is also a magical feeling, as well, and that's what I learned this weekend.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The day after completing his month-long domination of IMS by winning the 103rdth Indianapolis 500, Simon Pagenaud talked about someone who didn’t experience joy at Indy the week before.
Gil de Ferran, who won the Indy 500 in 2003 and was a key figure in Pagenaud’s racing resurgence in 2007, had contacted Pagenaud shortly after the win. The previous week, de Ferran, the sporting director at McLaren Racing, had failed to make it into the Indy 500 field with Fernando Alonso.
“I had a lot of support from (de Ferran) throughout the years,” Pagenaud said. “He’s been very important part of my improvement, my development as a driver. Without him, I don’t think I would’ve ever unlocked so much potential. He definitely has a very special place in my heart. I sent him a message. I said, ‘Thank you for everything, because all of your advice worked.’”
After a brief non-winning streak, Newgarden reset his season with a victory that led to a swim in the 94-year-old James Scott Memorial Fountain not far from the finish line at the Belle Isle street course.
Before he appeared for the postrace press conference, he’d showered and changed out of his soaked firesuit.
“I think I was going to get sick if I stayed in those clothes,” Newgarden said. “It is very cold. Race suits are not very conducive to water. It's like a sponge. It's really bad. It started to turn into a wetsuit in like five minutes. … It wasn't a good situation. Being fresh is a beautiful thing. People get in the fountain. You just have to oblige, I guess.
Oblige he did. The win was the second of four in Newgarden’s championship season. While celebrating with a swim, he wanted to reach for the giant lion in the famous fountain, but he was told it was best to stay away.
“I wanted to get on the lion, but I was told to not do that,” he said. “Otherwise we get fined. I didn't want to get in trouble.”
Alexander Rossi was so far ahead of the nearest contender -- 28.439 seconds, to be precise -- even he found it hard to believe. His victory at the Elkhart Lake, Wis., road course was nearly perfect.
“It was probably one of the best race cars I've ever had,” Rossi said. “Huge hats off to the 27 team, (engineer) Jeremy Milless) and (strategist) Rob (Edwards) and the whole group of guys. We have been quick through the whole season, but we just haven't really had it come our way many times as we want, for one reason or another.
The runaway victory came two weeks after a frustrating runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It was good to be able to look into things after Texas, kind of understand what was our mistakes, what was bad luck, and the source of it,” Rossi said. “To come out and be able to do what we did today is a huge testament to the whole organization. It's what we needed, for sure.”
After qualifying third at Iowa, Newgarden wasn’t happy. But after a thunderstorm delayed the race until the early morning hours at Iowa, his attitude had changed.
A dominating victory -- Newgarden’s fourth of the season -- padded his lead in the standings and put him firmly in charge of the championship with five races remaining in the season.
“I don't normally like to be short and externally frustrated, but I was just frustrated (after qualifying)” Newgarden said during the post-race press conference. “You're always feeling competitive, but a lot of times you can hold it back if you're pissed off about something. Sometimes you just want to go back out and redo it. That's kind of where I was yesterday.”
After leading 245 of the 300 laps at Iowa, his mood had changed.
“I felt ready to rock,” he said.
Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway
Sato’s second victory of 2019 -- and the two competitors who finished on the podium with him, was a statement about age and experience.
Sato, 42, outlasted 38-year-old Ed Carpenter and 44-year-old Tony Kanaan for a surprising 1-2-3 finish.
“That's the beauty of this sport, with motor racing,” Sato said afterward. “If you're talking only in physical terms, (older drivers) might not be able to do that. With the combination of experience and the team behind it, all the racecraft and all the things, I think age is sometimes something, but it is not everything. I think we can still perform like this.”
During the post-race celebration, Kanaan remarked that all three drivers were in their 40s. Carpenter, the youngest of the three, responded with the quote of the year.
“Hey, I'm 38,” he said. “Like, I'm a legit 38. I don't really know how old (Kanaan is). I don't know how old Takuma is. Everybody lies about their age. I am a legit, honest to God, 38 years old. March 1981.”
Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca
Newgarden didn’t expect to get emotional when he clinched the second championship of his career, but he did. While circling the track after finishing eighth and beating Pagenaud and Rossi for the championship, the tears began to fall.
“It’s been my dream since I was a kid,” Newgarden said while fighting emotions during the televised interview after the race. “I’m just really thankful for everyone, man, that’s done everything for me.”
He had led the standings since early June, but Newgarden was doggedly pursued by Rossi, Pagenaud and Dixon for nearly four months. Perhaps that explains his sudden outpouring in Victory Lane.
“It really hit me,” he said. “It just really, really hit me on the in-lap. I don't know why. I was just so emotional. I didn't quite get that way in the first one. I don't know if you don't have quite the respect for it or what it is. … To win a championship, it doesn't come every week. That opportunity seldom is there, and if it is there, you really want to capitalize on it because you never know if you're going to get that again.”