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Josef Newgarden transported to hospital for evaluation of possible head injury

Josef Newgarden's hopes of an IndyCar Series weekend sweep at Iowa Speedway ends early in unexpected fashion due to suspension failure and he is heartbroken for his team.

NEWTON, Iowa – Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was airlifted for further evaluation of a possible head injury because he fell and suffered “an abrasion” after Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Dr. Geoffrey Billows, outgoing medical director for IndyCar, said Newgarden was communicating after “passing out” and striking his head shortly after the checkered flag. The Team Penske driver had wrecked while leading on Lap 231 in pursuit of his second consecutive victory at the 0.894-mile oval.

Observers said Newgarden fell in the motorhome lot where drivers stay on race weekends.

UPDATE: Team Penske says Newgarden will be hospitalized overnight for observation

“We just want to send him downtown just for further evaluation because we don’t have the ability to get more advanced imaging or radiographs,” Dr. Billows told reporters in the Iowa Speedway infield care center. “But he’s awake and talking to us.”

Dr. Billows said Newgarden was transported by helicopter because of concern that the 45-minute ground transport to Mercy One Des Moines Medical Center in downtown Des Moines would be delayed by postrace traffic and a Blake Shelton concert at the track.

Newgarden was airlifted “only because it’s so far to Des Moines,” said Billows, who stressed the helicopter flight was precautionary. “It’s a 45-minute drive, and we’ve got all this concert traffic and everything, we were afraid it was going to be delayed, and the helicopter was sitting here.”

An ambulance was called to the driver lot after Newgarden collapsed. He was inside the care center for about 30 minutes before being loaded into the helicopter on a stretcher.

Newgarden already had been evaluated in the care center after his crash and conducted interviews with NBC Sports and other media.

“That’s the thing that makes it confusing,” Dr. Billows said. “He crashed, he was evaluated here after the crash, and he was fine. We actually went and talked to him afterwards. And then apparently after (we) talked to him, he exited his hauler and passed out or fell or whatever and hit his head.

“We just felt out of the abundance of caution, we wanted to make sure he doesn’t have any kind of head injury.”

Dr. Billows said Newgarden “seemed OK” during his crash evaluation, but that the wreck registered a heavy enough impact that IndyCar planned to re-evaluate the driver Thursday “because of the level of Gs on the accelerometer.”

IndyCar will race on the next two weekends at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.

Newgarden led a race-high 148 of 300 laps and was poised to take the points lead with his second consecutive win and fifth of the season.

Outside the care center after the crash, Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that the impact “was definitely a bit of a shot.” His car lost traction in Turn 4 after an apparent suspension failure, according to Team Chevy officials.

“I want to cry,” Newgarden told Burns. “I’m so sad for my team. I don’t know what happened. It was a good run. It’s just one race, but I feel terrible for us. Team Chevy and Hitachi guys did a great job. Something went wrong there.

“Everything felt fine to me up to that point. I did have a vibration at the start of the stint, which isn’t abnormal. Tire balances are always shifting. It’s very possible that we had a mismatched set or something. It wasn’t diabolical whatsoever. Actually, everything felt just fine. It was totally unexpected when it happened. It caught me by surprise. I didn’t know what happened until I was in the wall.”

Newgarden told other reporters in further interviews that the hit “definitely rocked me. I got a little bit shaken from it, but I’m OK. We have great safety in IndyCar, and the car held up good. So it wasn’t that bad, but it’s never nice to hit the wall at flat-chat. We’ll pick up the pieces and go on.”

Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin, who hosts a YouTube show with Newgarden, visited the care center shortly before Newgarden was transported.

McLaughlin tweeted support of his Penske teammate after the race.

IndyCar officials released a statement later Sunday night: “Following an on-track incident at Iowa Speedway, Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden was evaluated and released from the infield care center.

“After the conclusion of the race, he fell and returned to the infield care center. He is awake and alert and has been transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.”