Josef Newgarden didn't clinch the Firestone Indy Lights championship at Baltimore, but he may look back on his performance on the 2.04-mile street course on Sept. 4 as the reason he claimed the Firestone Firehawk Cup as series champion.
"This was probably the best moment of the year," said Newgarden, who went from 14th to second in the 35-lap Baltimore 100. "Certainly I'm pleased after what happened [in qualifying]. It was difficult on me. I made mistakes yesterday and put us in a very bad position [for the race]."
But Newgarden used a combination of patience, pace and guile to finish 0.45sec behind winner Gustavo Yacaman. Races like these are what make champions and Newgarden now just needs to finish 13th or better in the next race in Kentucky to sew up the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights title.
"A great race by Gustavo – he showed no mercy and definitely made no mistakes," Newgarden said. "We're focused on the championship. I would like to have another win for us but that is a great way to rebound after having a very tough time on Saturday. I was really disappointed with how qualifying went. To finish off the weekend like this can hopefully help us at the end of the year."
While Newgarden was making the most of the race, his teammate and closest championship rival Esteban Guerrieri saw a great race turn sour when his No. 7 Lucas Oil/SSM car made contact with the inside wall in Turn 3 on lap 28 while holding a 5sec advantage over Anders Krohn. Guerrieri was unable to continue and was classified 12th causing his slim championship hopes to fade even further. Newgarden now holds a nearly insurmountable 90-point lead over teammate Guerrieri heading into the penultimate race of the season in Kentucky. Stefan Wilson (-116), Gustavo Yacaman (-137) and Jorge Goncalvez (-188) round out the top-5 in championship points.
"I'm disappointed for Esteban but a great day for us, so we're going to roll into the last couple of rounds and seal this championship in Kentucky," Newgarden said.