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Newgarden Revokes Concession, Wins At TMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 22 2022

Josef Newgarden edged past Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin to win Sunday’s IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – With two laps remaining in Sunday’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, Josef Newgarden confessed he had mentally mailed-in a runnerup result to Scott McLaughlin.

Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate, McLaughlin was in the process of steamrolling his way into Victory Lane as the white flag flew for the 248th and final lap.

“At the end, I literally conceded. ‘It’s just not going to happen,’^” said Newgarden, revisiting the most improbable victory of his NTT IndyCar Series career. “I literally almost lost it off (Turn) 4 pushing hard to go ahead close. Scott did a good job. ‘He’s in position, he’s going to win this, bring it home.’

“I could have kept that mindset. But that mindset changed as soon as I got to corner three.”

While McLaughlin sized-up a line of lapped traffic, Newgarden wheeled into the high-line after exiting the track’s 24-degree banking in Turn 4 of the 1.5-mile oval.

“The traffic just presented a great opportunity to really get after it, try to do something to win this race,” Newgarden said. “I went high-side. If I hit the fence, I hit the fence. Scott is still the winner, it will be a great day for the team. I was so pumped. I’ve never been so excited. I got on the radio like in the middle of (Turns) 3-4, I was like _ ‘No way!’^”

Josef Newgarden celebrates a win that he thought had eluded him.

Newgarden’s momentum carried his No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet around McLaughlin and to victory by 0.669-seconds. It was Newgarden’s second win at TMS, the 21st of his 12-year series career and 600th for team-owner Roger Penske over all motorsports platforms.

“I never had a race end that way,” said Newgarden, who led only three laps on a day that saw Scotty Mac pace an event-high 186. “Was it three (laps)? I thought it was one. I think it was the coolest win I’ve ever had in the No. 2 car.”

Team-owner Roger Penske added an element to TMS’ Victory Lane traditions _ a black cowboy hat for the winner, the two-handed six-gun salute amid a flaming background _ when he laid six crisp $100 bills on Newgarden’s palm as an in-house bonus.

“^’The Captain’ is so true to his word,” Newgarden said of his white-haired, 85=year-old boss, wo also owns INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “He gave me $600 in pit lane, in cash. We’re going to In-N-Out (for dinner) is what we’re going to do.

“Unbelievable. I think Scott led 95 percent of the laps. I hate doing that to a teammate but I was going for it, just like he was. Man, I was loose. I was driving the thing sideways off (Turns) 3 and 4. I was trying to get a win. Last lap, last corner _ that’s what it’s all about at Texas.”

Indeed, the margin of victory was the eighth-closest in the track’s storied open-wheel history, which dates to INDYCAR’s first night race on June 7, 1997. Sunday’s race was the last under a four-year contract negotiated with INDYCAR by former TMS President and General Manager Eddie Gossage. The two-day weekend schedule played-out amid rumors the series could end its long-standing relationship with Speedway Motorsports here, a victim of overall inconsistent quality of racing in recent years and a sharp decline in attendance.

TMS General Manager Rob Ramage, who was tapped in-house by Speedway Motorsports management to replace Gossage last August, was typically upbeat after the race. Ramage said he hoped the series would return for “the next 25 years and 25 years after that” during a post-race scrum with a local TV station. But with the race’s future in doubt, Ramage did not conduct a formal interview session with credentialed media on either Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday’s race was the second of a 17-event 2022 schedule but first on an oval. The EXPEL 375 also was the only oval-track race booked before the 106th edition of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. An INDYCAR spokesman said last week series officials would monitor Sunday’s race and meet with Speedway Motorsports execs in the coming weeks.

McLaughlin, last year’s INDYCAR and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, was looking to start the season 2-0 after earning his first series win at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., street race on Feb. 27. McLaughlin, who qualified second Saturday afternoon in his No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet, was poised to add his first oval-track win to a world-class resume when Newgarden pulled off his slingshot pass. 

“I’m gutted. It still hurt, that’s just how it is,” said McLaughlin, a 28-year-old native of New Zealand and three-time Australian Supercars champion. “My car wasn’t probably as good as it had been in traffic as it had been the whole race. I knew I was building push, I was building tightness. Once he (Newgarden) got on the outside there, I couldn’t come up above the line. I was stuck.

“I thought about going outside on (rookie David) Malukas there, but I was worried I would push up into the gray (second lane) and into the fence. I didn’t want to go into the last corner and hit the fence and have neither of us win. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But I’m pretty proud of how we’re running.”

Ironically, McLaughlin finished second in his oval-track debut here on May 1, 2021 to fellow-New Zealander Scott Dixon, the six-time series champion. “Last year I was fist-pumping jumping out of my car, and today I’m like, ‘It sucks,’^” McLaughlin said.

Newgarden, the INDYCAR champion in 2017 and 2019, said McLaughlin’s decision-making was sound. “Look, Scott didn’t do anything wrong. I took a risk,” said Newgarden, a 31-year-old resident of Nashville. “I mean, I took a big risk there at the end. I just held it in (Turns) 3-4 to see if it would work. If it didn’t work, it was going to be on me that I took a risk and didn’t work out.

“I made that in a very split-second decision. I’m serious when I say I was pretty much conceding with a lap-and-a-half to go. It was going to be what it was going to be. I wasn’t in position correctly for the final stint. I just went for it.

“He didn’t do anything wrong, up on traffic, getting loose. I was a little stronger than him at the end for sure. It actually shows his wisdom. It would have been very unwise for him to take a flyer and go high-side without knowing what’s going to happen. He won the first race, leading the championship. That would have been silly for him to do that.

“For me it was a risk, but I think it was somewhat calculated. I saw people going up there toward the beginning and middle of the race. I took a calculated risk and it worked out.”

The Penske teammates were joined on the podium by Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson, driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. A former Formula One regular in his fourth INDYCAR season, Ericsson led 10 laps en route to finishing 1.3537-seconds behind Newgarden for his career-best oval result.

Two-time TMS winner Will Power finished fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, as Team Penske drivers earned three of the top four spots. Dixon _ a record five-time Texas winner _ finished fifth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson’s highly anticipated open-wheel, oval-track debut produced a sixth-place finish _ the best result of his brief INDYCAR career. A seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Johnson spent his rookie season competing in only the series’ street and road-course events with a best finish of 17th.

“Yes, I’m absolutely happy coming home sixth,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. “I hoped to qualify in the top-10 and race in the top-10. Missed the qualifying mark a bit (18th), but once we hit the halfway point of the race, I really could sense and feel the car. It became second nature, and off I went. We knew going oval racing would help, and today got us into the competitive mix.”

Johnson’s finish elevated him into the top-10 in points for the first time in his open-wheel career.

McLaughlin, who started alongside pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist and his No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, sent the field an early message by leading the first 56 laps of the 248-lapper. A combination of four yellow flags and green-flag pit stops produced 15 lead changes among 12 drivers. 

McLaughlin retook the point on Lap 206 when rookie Callum Ilott pitted from the lead after trying to stretch fuel beyond a normal pit cycle in his No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet. McLaughlin had placed himself into position to inherit the lead a lap earlier by passing Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 SONAX Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet for second in Turn 1.

Newgarden, who started seventh, drove into second and pulled to within 0.462-seconds of McLaughlin with 25 laps to go. McLaughlin expanded that lead to 0.914-seconds with five laps remaining as both drivers diced through lapped traffic.

McLaughlin tried to manage the gap between his car and the slower cars ahead of Englishman Ilott and Malukas as the laps wound down. The gap between the top two was 0.315-seconds at the white flag.

As McLaughlin slowed slightly with Malukas’ No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Honda ahead, Newgarden moved up half-a-lane in Turns 3 and 4 and pulled outside of and even with McLaughlin exiting Turn 4. The slingshot-like whip-around through the final corner gave Newgarden the momentum he needed to win a drag race through the track’s dogleg and across the finish line.

“I was livid in the car because we had all this traffic and it wasn’t helping me, and then right when I needed it to help me, it helped me,” Newgarden said. “Literally last corner, last lap, the traffic helped me out.”

Newgarden averaged 165.467 mph in a race that produced 52 laps run under caution.

Newgarden also gained a leg up on the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge with his victory. The challenge offered by the industrial staffing giant is a bonus of $1-million to be awarded to the first series driver who can win on all three unique styles of tracks _ street circuits, road courses and ovals _ this season. The reward, if earned, will be divided, with $500,000 shared by the driver and his team and $500,000 presented to their chosen charity.

PeopleReady is offering an additional $10,000 to the winner of every race this season, also to be split with a charity of choice. Newgarden said he would split the award from TMS with SeriousFun Childrens Network and Wags & Walks Nashville.

Results of the XPEL 375 NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    2. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    3. (14) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 248, Running
    4. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    5. (5) Scott Dixon, Honda, 248, Running
    6. (18) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 248, Running
    7. (11) Alex Palou, Honda, 248, Running
    8. (15) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 248, Running
    9. (27) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 248, Running
    10. (8) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 248, Running
    11. (19) David Malukas, Honda, 248, Running
    12. (9) Colton Herta, Honda, 247, Running
    13. (21) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 247, Running
    14. (25) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 247, Running
    15. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 247, Running
    16. (20) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 247, Running
    17. (22) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 246, Running
    18. (16) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 245, Running
    19. (24) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 233, Contact
    20. (3) Takuma Sato, Honda, 140, Contact
    21. (1) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 138, Mechanical
    22. (26) Graham Rahal, Honda, 128, Contact
    23. (6) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 128, Contact
    24. (17) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 128, Contact
    25. (23) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 113, Contact
    26. (13) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 103, Mechanical
    27. (12) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 11, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 165.467 mph
Time of Race: 2:09:29.7270
Margin of victory: 0.0669-second
Cautions: 4 for 52
Lead changes: 15 among 12 drivers

Lap Leaders
McLaughlin 1 – 56
Sato 57 – 61
Castroneves 62
Kirkwood 63 – 67
Hildebrand 68
McLaughlin 69 – 149
Newgarden 150 – 151
McLaughlin 152 – 158
VeeKay 159 – 163
Power 164 – 183
Ericsson 184 – 193
Carpenter 194 – 197
Malukas 198 – 200
Ilott 201 – 205
McLaughlin 206 – 247
Newgarden 248

PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge ($10,000 charitable donation): Josef Newgarden

Point standings (top-10): 1, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 97; 2, Will Power, Team Penske, 69; 3, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 67; 4, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 65; 5, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 58; 6, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 55; 7, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, (tie), Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 50; 9, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 39; 10, Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 35.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 22 2022
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