NEWTON, Iowa — Marcus Ericsson’s saving grace for his IndyCar Series championship lead was when Josef Newgarden crashed in Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 at Iowa Speedway.
The Tennessee native was en route to a possible win to sweep the doubleheader weekend at the .894-mile oval before a suspected rear suspension failure sent the four-time Iowa Speedway winner into the Turn 4 wall.
Newgarden was leading the points at the time of the crash but is now third in points, 34 behind Ericsson.
“I mean, we can only focus on ourselves,” Ericsson said in the post-race press conference. “Of course you don’t want anyone to have mechanical failure that takes you out of the race, but that’s part of racing, right? You have to finish to get the points. [Newgarden] was very strong this weekend. I’m sure they’re going to be very disappointed with that. But we’re not going to apologize for it. We’re going to take the points on offer.”
Ericsson was running in sixth place when Newgarden spun and finished there after Jimmie Johnson passed the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner for fifth on Lap 292. Pato O’Ward led the final 66 of 300 laps on Sunday to win his second IndyCar race of the 2022 season.
Fighting for position with a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was a refreshing change of pace for the Swede, who knew that Johnson would not be problematic to race with given his oval experience.
“It was really fun, you know I could tell [Johnson]’s very experienced on these things because he was always driving where I wasn’t driving and sort of getting air on his wings,” Ericsson told TobyChristie.com. “That’s what he has been doing for all his life driving on ovals, so you could definitely tell that when you’re racing him. I’m still learning on ovals, I’m still trying to, especially on the short ovals. I think on the superspeedways, obviously, I’ve got it pretty good, figured out this year.
“I think you know I wanted that top five and I was trying everything to get that top five. At the same time, I knew that Jimmie wasn’t going to race me dirty. I knew he was going to be fair. He’s fair, especially being teammates and me leading in the championship. I was trying everything to keep him behind, but in the end he was a bit faster than me there in the end.”
Consistency has been Ericsson’s strength in the 2022 IndyCar Series season. Other than a mistake at Long Beach robbing Ericsson of a near-certain podium and finishing 12th at Barber Motorsports Park on an alternate strategy, Ericsson has finished in the top-10 in every race so far this season. Since Barber, Ericsson’s worst finish was eighth place in Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway.
In 2021, Ericsson finished sixth in IndyCar points. At St. Petersburg, Ericsson admitted that ovals would be his main target for improvement, losing out on many points there last season. That refocus worked with a third place finish at Texas in March, a victory at the double-points Indianapolis 500 and double top-10s at Iowa Speedway. Ericsson feels that race-ability on short ovals is his main weakness.
“I think there’s still some room for improvement there,” Ericsson said. “I still feel like both yesterday and today, I started off the race so strong and I wait (and) make my way through the field, up to the front. And then I struggle both days a bit to keep the speed throughout the race. The balance sort of goes away a bit from me. So maybe I need to be a bit more proactive with my feedback or the way I use my tools in the car and stuff like that. Still things you learn, you’re always learning in this sport. I’m really proud and happy with the progress I’ve made this year and that’s why we are a contender everywhere we go now.”
The next IndyCar Series race is the Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The race will air live on NBC on Saturday July 30th at noon ET. Ericsson finished fourth at the GMR Grand Prix at the IMS road course back in May.