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Penske’s Newgarden Storms To Desert Victory

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, April 8 2018

Defending IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden beat the field to the checkered flag Saturday night in Phoenix.

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Josef Newgarden charged from fourth place in the last seven laps to win Saturday night’s Phoenix Grand Prix.

The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion beat rookie Robert Wickens by 2.9946 seconds on the ISM Raceway 1.022-mile oval to collect his eighth career victory.

Newgarden, in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet, was among eight lead-lap drivers who made a pit stop for a new set of Firestone tires during the race’s second caution period when Ed Jones hit the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier on Lap 229 of 250.

Wickens, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi elected not to pit and led the field on the Lap 243 restart. Taking the restart in fourth place, Newgarden immediately raced past Rossi and Hinchcliffe on the outside through Turns 1 and 2 before moving in on race-leader Wickens.

On Lap 247, Newgarden took the high line into Turn 1 and drove past Wickens, driver of the No. 6  SPM Honda. Rossi, in the No. 27 Honda, finished third.

“The team did such a good job,” Newgarden said. “The car was good, the strategy was better, the pit stops were the best. I’m really proud of them and what they did. I think they deserved the win tonight.”

Wickens was more than satisfied with his second-place finish.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “All I wanted to do was finish every lap of my oval debut. So, to come home P2 and even lead tonight, you can never expect that as a rookie. It’s so hard here, but the team did a great job. The car was great all day. ”

With the win, Newgarden also took the championship lead after two of 17 races. The seventh-year INDYCAR driver has 77 points, five more than Rossi and seven ahead of Sebastien Bourdais, winner of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The victory was the 198th for Team Penske, the most of any team in Indy car history.

“I think we were a top-five car tonight, for sure,” Newgarden said. “But I struggled a little bit with the balance, so it was difficult for me to force the issue until we got to the end when I had a tire advantage.

“I knew I could force the issue. I kind of bided my time for that. I was trying to be calm tonight and make it to the finish.”

Wickens, when asked if there was anything he could have done to hold off Newgarden, said, “I did as much as I could without crashing both of us, so I don’t think there’s any stopping him. I think once he built up the courage to just out brake me around the outside, it was pretty easy. But congratulations to him. You know, these INDYCAR races are so much longer than what I’m used to. It’s confusing. I didn’t know where he was at one point and then he popped up in the lead and (Ed) Jones got ahead of me there. But I’m still happy with how it turned out.”

Newgarden’s winning speed of 147.395 mph set a record for a race at the former Phoenix International Raceway, as well as the number of lead changes (12) and drivers who led (nine). The race was slowed by two caution periods, for single-car incidents involving rookie Pietro Fittipaldi (Lap 41) and Jones (Lap 229). Neither driver was injured.

Bourdais, who started from the pole, and Rossi were penalized for hitting crew members on their first pit stops. The ensuing drive-through penalties put each driver a lap down.

“We were pretty much in control of the race and things were looking good,” Bourdais said. “Then the first and almost only yellow came out. We paraded around for two or three laps and all I was thinking about was hitting my marks when we pitted. I didn’t scrub my tires. I didn’t pay attention that my tires loaded up with a bunch of junk and next thing I knew I was on the concrete in the pit lane. I tried to slow down and locked up the wheels instantly and nothing happened. Nothing. I just skated and two guys left with me. That was the failed moment of the race because after that there were no yellows until all the pit stops were completed. So, that was that.”

Bourdais finished 13th but Rossi, who made 53 on-track passes (19 percent of all passes made in the race), charged back to reach the podium.

“The only reason I was able to do that was because the team gave me an unbelievable car,” Rossi said. “As I said, we spent so much of our time and brain effort and research in the time between the (February) open test and (race weekend) focusing on tire life. Hopefully, it’s something that we can keep an advantage on people going forward for the next short ovals.

“You’ve got to take the podiums when you can get them. Unfortunately, we probably gave away a win today, but that’s the way it goes.”

The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 15. It airs live at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

(This story will be updated shortly)

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AVONDALE, Arizona – Results Saturday of the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 250, Running
2. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 250, Running
3. (4) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 250, Running
4. (17) Scott Dixon, Honda, 250, Running
5. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 250, Running
6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 250, Running
7. (18) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 250, Running
8. (9) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 250, Running
9. (12) Graham Rahal, Honda, 250, Running
10. (2) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 250, Running
11. (13) Takuma Sato, Honda, 250, Running
12. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 249, Running
13. (1) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 249, Running
14. (15) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 249, Running
15. (19) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 249, Running
16. (23) Zach Veach, Honda, 249, Running
17. (22) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 248, Running
18. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 247, Running
19. (16) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 241, Running
20. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 228, Contact
21. (14) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 174, Contact
22. (3) Will Power, Chevrolet, 153, Contact
23. (10) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 40, Contact

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed:  147.395
Time of Race: 1:44:00.3552
Margin of victory: 2.9946 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 23 laps
Lead changes: 12 among 9 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Bourdais, Sebastien 1 – 43
Power, Will 44 – 123
Rahal, Graham 124 – 128
Hinchcliffe, James 129 – 148
Wickens, Robert 149 – 177
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 178 – 182
Pagenaud, Simon 183 – 185
Rahal, Graham 186 – 187
Rossi, Alexander 188
Bourdais, Sebastien 189 – 205
Newgarden, Josef 206 – 231
Wickens, Robert 232 – 246
Newgarden, Josef 247 – 250

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings:
Newgarden 77, Rossi 72, Bourdais 70, Rahal 63, Hunter-Reay 62, Hinchcliffe 61, Dixon 60, Wickens 57, Kanaan 43, Andretti 40.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, April 8 2018
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