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Road America win, solid Laguna Seca doubleheader send Jamie Chadwick up Indy NXT standings

Road America win, solid Laguna Seca doubleheader send Jamie Chadwick up Indy NXT standings

Following up a historic win from pole with her worst qualifying performances of the year and a pair of top-10s won’t draw worldwide attention like Jamie Chadwick was engulfed in two weeks ago, but the Andretti Global driver’s Indy NXT weekend at Laguna Seca that vaulted her into the “best of the rest” conversation was also pivotal to her development too.

Two weeks ago, Chadick told IndyStar that she came away from Road America with a changed perspective of where she sat in the series that has had at least 20 cars at every round in 2024. Having set a major goal coming her second Indy NXT campaign of winning a race, but uncertain where she’d stack up entering her sophomore campaign, Chadwick said she arrived at Road America feeling, on a favorable weekend, she could be seen as a top-5 driver.

After Road America, where she wowed team owner Michael Andretti with her car control and moves out front, Chadwick sees no reason why she can’t be tops of anyone outside of Jacob Abel and Louis Foster — who have combined to win six of the last seven series races.

Jamie Chadwick is shown during the IndyCar Sonsio Grand Prix in Indianapolis May 11, 2024.

“All a sudden, your goalposts have moved a little bit, and that’s a really positive thing,” she told IndyStar after her Road America victory, where she led all 20 laps flag-to-flag. “Now that we’ve ticked that box (of winning a race), now I look at the championship and I think we should be way higher up than we are, so I want to build more of a championship campaign now.

“It’s going to be tough to take it to Jacob and Louis, but I definitely don’t think we should be 9th in the championship at this point.”

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And that’s what Chadwick’s finishes of 9th and 6th over the doubleheader weekend – her third and fourth top-10s of the year through eight rounds – helped deliver. By virtue of keeping her nose clean Saturday during Race 1 and making up three spots – all through others’ mistakes – after what at the time had been her worst starting spot of the year, Chadwick moved up a single spot to 8th in the championship.

Sunday, after starting two spots worse that the previous day’s race in 14th after a run of five consecutive top-6 starts entering the weekend, the 26-year-old British driver took home the series’ ‘Biggest Mover’ award after making up eight spots and finishing 6th. Entering Round No. 9 at Mid-Ohio in two weekends, she now stands just a single point out of 4th in the championship, potentially making for an exciting battle between two of the highest profile drivers in the series not in the title hunt with series rookie Myles Rowe.

During Sunday’s race while sitting 7th with six laps left, Chadwick had finally gained a run on the HMD Motorsports driver who won the USF Pro 2000 title a year ago and who’s likely headed to IndyCar within the next two years via his support from Team Penske. Heading into the ‘Andretti Hairpin’ in Turn 2, Rowe faded just as Chadwick attempted to run around the outside, making contact with her left-front wing endplate. Even before race control could flag and penalize Rowe for the clear block, which led to a flat tire of his own, Chadwick made her way around and took off for her final pass of the race – one where she executed on-track passes at a venue that makes them difficult and took advantage of others’ attrition and mistakes.

Jun 21, 2024; Salinas, California, USA; IndyNXT Series driver Jamie Chadwick (28) during practice for the Indy NXT race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It was a nice change, after a season where she’s been run into on Lap 1 (St. Pete) and spun on her own late in a race (Barber) – both leading to 20th-place finishes – and also seen potential top-5s at the IMS road course and the Streets of Detroit erased by a combination of bad luck and miscues. After her Road America win, Chadwick noted just how comfortable – more so than in any other start of her Indy NXT career to date – she had been starting on pole for that race due to the 10 poles and 11 wins she amassed during her 21-race W Series career from 2019-2022. Though in a much less physical car and up against a less-talented field, Chadwick had found opportunities in the all-female racing series to build muscle memory of what it was like to lead races, defend against race-contending competition and generally race aggressively with a lot on the line.

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Now equipped with the strength to properly whip the car around for an hour at a time, with a year’s worth of knowledge of the tracks and her competition’s ticks and tricks, that race day at Road America wasn’t foreign at all. What comes next is fighting for more of those breakthrough weekends when the odds are stacked against her. Not that 9th- and 6th-place finishes are major steppingstones, they mark progress as (for the most part) blemish-less races, recoveries after tough rounds of qualifying and an ability to carve through the chaos of the mid-pack and not push over the limit and make her own mistakes.

“With a win I think comes a little bit of a breakthrough. Every driver gives themselves a number about where you’re at or where you’re happy with on pace and performance, and really this year, I was somewhere around the top-5, but there was a serious gap to at least the top 2 or 3 with a performance delta,” she said. “The podium at IMS was awesome, but that did come off the back of a little attrition, whereas Road America felt like we were toe-to-toe (with them).

“I feel like now I’m capable of running with those guys at the very front, and mentally and psychologically that has a really strong impact. I like to think that’s going to be the target for the rest of the year of trying to continue this run of form and being in the top-3 as much as possible.”

Jamie Chadwick celebrates her victory in the Indy NXT series Sunday, June 9, 2024, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The 26-year-old British driver became the second woman to win in IndyCar’s top development series following Pippa Mann in 2010.

Following Mid-Ohio is a run of ovals – four in five rounds to close the season – that could determine where Chadwick is racing in 2025. While admitting conversations about her short-term future have already begun – “They start, unfortunately, earlier and earlier every year,” she said – oval racing still largely remains a relatively foreign after just two starts a year ago. Her debut, at Iowa Speedway, marked her best finish in the discipline in 10th.

Even as she still could stand to continue on this run of solid top-10s, while sprinkling in some more top-5s and podiums, oval performance, comfort and competitiveness stands to be her biggest focus down the stretch this year. While noting that IndyCar remains her goal, she knows one single Indy NXT win from pole at a track where it’s historically tough to pass likely won’t be enough to land an IndyCar ride next year.

She even says she’s not even certain if that’s where she’d want to be in 2025, either.

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“For sure IndyCar is the goal, but I want to make sure I do it the right way, and whenever that time comes – or if that time comes – I want to be competitive and in the right environment and able to be competitive,” she said. “I think Indy NXT is going to prepare me well for whatever I do next year, but I don’t think winning one Indy NXT race on a road course is going to be enough to secure me anything.

“These next few races we have on the ovals, I need to make sure we can perform and do the best job possible and then see what happens. There’s a few mistakes I’ve made this year and some things that make me think I still want to learn and progress, but at the same time, my rate of progression has been really quick (this year), so I don’t know why we can’t, if we keep these results up, try and knock on the door for an IndyCar seat next year.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Jamie Chadwick building potential IndyCar resume in Year 2 in Indy NXT

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