Newgarden Keeps Penske Rolling at The Beach

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 12 2022

Josef Newgarden navigates the Long Beach street course on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Josef Newgarden’s bid for a third NTT IndyCar Series championship now includes a victory in domestic open-wheel racing’s version of Formula One’s famed Monaco Grand Prix.

Newgarden kept Team Penske unbeaten in three races this season Sunday afternoon with his second consecutive victory, capturing the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Newgarden earned his first career win on the Southern California street circuit by holding off Romain Grosjean and reigning series champion Alex Palou in a race that ended under caution after Takuma Sato speared the tire barrier in Turn 8 on Lap 84 of the scheduled 85-lapper.

INDYCAR has been racing on the Streets of Long Beach since April 1, 1984, when Mario Andretti scored the first of his three wins in an event sanctioned by the Championship Auto Racing Teams. In addition to Mario _ the 1978 F1 World Driving Champion _ the event’s list of winners includes six-time champ Al Unser Jr., four-time winner Paul Tracy of Canada, three-time winner Sebastien Bourdais of France and two-time winners Michael Andretti, Alex Zanardi of Italy, Will Power of Australia and Alexander Rossi.

Through the years, the race sanctioned by Champ Car, the Indy Racing League and INDYCAR has been contested by former F1 World Champions Emerson Fittipaldi of Brazil, Nigel Mansell of Great Britain and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya, the LBGP winner in 1999. In terms of series prestige, winning the Long Beach Grand Prix remains second only to the Indianapolis 500. 

“Incredibly special. This place is a hard nut to crack,” Newgarden said during his post-race presser. “It’s a lot of pressure like the Indy 500. Everyone looks at this place as the crown jewel of our sport, and it would be an honor to win here and you feel it within the team. The team was so pumped up to be able to win around this place. It does mean more than some other tracks.

“I would love to get some more ‘big game’ (wins). But I’m definitely a guy of averages, I just try and let’s get as much as we can across the board and that’s typically what leads into championships. Two different conversations, I’d say. The championships are on the average side, and then if you’re not going for championships you can just go for the big prestigious events. Some people have careers where those are the ones they knock down.”

The series champion in 2017 and 2019 for team-owner Roger Penske, Newgarden took over the point lead with his 22nd career victory. Newgarden leads teammate Scott McLaughlin of New Zealand, winner of the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on Feb. 27, by five points (118-113).

Newgarden won Round 2 of the schedule via a final-lap/final-turn pass around McLaughlin at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on March 20.

Grosjean, of Andretti Autosport, tied a career-best by finishing second while Palou, of Chip Ganassi Racing, rounded-out the podium in third.

“This was a fight today,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “This was not an easy race to win. I was working my butt off with Grosjean at the end there on the used reds (alternate tires). This Hitachi car was on it. I’ve been trying to win a race here for 11 years, so I’m so happy to get it done.”

Power, the 2014 series champion, finished fourth in the No. 12 Chevrolet as Team Penske has claimed at least two of the first four spots at the finish in all three races this season. The last time Team Penske won the first three races of a season was 2012. Chip Ganassi Racing (2020) was the last organization to open a season with three consecutive wins.

Pato O’Ward of Mexico completed the top-five in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, his first top-10 result of 2022.

Newgarden took the lead for good on Lap 55 when leader Palou made his final pit stop for fuel and primary (black) Firestone Firehawk tires. Newgarden pitted for the last time two laps later, also taking fuel and primary tires, and upon pit exit narrowly stayed ahead of Palou as he screamed down the main straightaway on Shoreline Drive trying to win a drag race for the lead.

Newgarden and Palou raced side-by-side for the lead on Newgarden’s out-lap after his pit stop, making slight hip-check contact in Turn 5 of the tight 11-turn/1.968-mile circuit. Despite tires not up to racing temperature, Newgarden managed to remain in front.

“We got together in T5 going in deep, and that almost didn’t work out when we were side-by- side in that corner,” Newgarden said. “We were side-by-side in Turn 6. That was the difficult battle. But I think Grosjean, overall, just had a better shot of getting it done. Fortunately, we just held on.”

Frenchman Grosjean was racing on an alternate strategy than the other leading cars, as he took Firestone red tires on his final stop on Lap 56 _ the lap between Palou and Newgarden’s last stops.

Still, Grosjean was able to save his grippier but less durable tires over the final stint because two of the race’s four caution periods took place between his final stop and Sato’s race-ending caution. Sato, the native of Japan who won this event for A.J. Foyt Racing in 2013, collided with the tire barrier in his No. 51 Honda on Lap 84 after a joust for position with Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.

Grosjean took advantage of the extended tire wear to pass Palou with an outside move into Turn 1 on Lap 70. He then set his sights on Newgarden, pulling close while using all of his available push-to-pass boost.

A caution triggered by Jimmie Johnson spinning into the tire barriers in Turn 8 on Lap 76 in his No. 48 CGR Honda and collecting the No. 18 HMD Honda of rookie David Malukas bunched the field one last time.

Newgarden answered with a strong jump on the restart, but an alert Grosjean stayed on Newgarden’s gearbox with Palou in-tow. However, Grosjean never got close enough to pass before the race-ending caution.

“I think he chewed his tires up a little bit too much leading into the last yellow,” Newgarden said of Grosjean, the former F1 regular in his second INDYCAR season but first with the team owned by Michael Andretti.

“Very close, but not close enough,” said Grosjean, driver of the No. 28 Honda. “That was fun. With the right tire strategy and with the last caution, I thought it was going to be great. He (Newgarden) did one mistake, but I just couldn’t use it.

“We had the right strategy with good pit stops. We all pushed hard and had a yellow that brought us back in the game. Without any push-to-pass left I was left a little shy. We were trying to get a win today. Next time.”

Palou, a native of Spain, was pragmatic after starting and finishing third in his No. 10 Honda. “A lot of things happened in that race,” Palou said. “I think we did an amazing job with strategy on that first stop. We had to overtake (Colton) Herta and Newgarden somehow, and we didn’t want to be at risk of any yellows, so we pitted early, really went for it and led some laps. That was amazing. But on the second stop, Josef got us there. It was a nice battle on track and another podium for us, so I’m feeling really confident for what’s ahead.”

NTT P1 Award winner Herta led 28 laps _ four shy of Newgarden’s race-high total of 32 _ but his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda was eliminated in a crash in Turn 9 while running third on his in-lap to the pits on Lap 56.

Newgarden, who has won back-to-back races for the first time in five seasons, downplayed his status as early-season championship favorite. 

“It’s only three races in,” said Newgarden, a 31-year-old native of Nashville, Tenn. “We could have a horrible rest of the year. I’m not trying to wish bad ‘ju-ju’ on us, just looking at both sides of the argument. What I feel like we’re building on the No. 2 car…we’ve got a good engineer in Eric Leichtle and all our crew plus everyone else at Team Penske that works on this team.

“We’ve got a lot of new people on the No. 2 car this year. It’s high turnover from last year and we’re trying to get everybody acclimated and up to speed and comfortable. I just feel like we’re building slowly and I can see the confidence growing in these new individuals. This victory gives me more satisfaction from that standpoint than the other. I’m feeling positive about where we are going, but we have a long way to go.

“Indianapolis is where we have to perform for Team Penske. I want a Borg-Warner so bad. So let’s see what we can do during the Month of May. I’m focused on it. I can’t do more than what I’ve done in the past, I can tell you that. So I’m not putting extra pressure on myself that I have to do some superhuman feat. It’s for whatever reason just not clicked yet, so I’m just staying the course. I’m going to put effort forward like every year, and I’m going to put myself in position to maybe win the race and I just _ one of these years it’s got to work out.”

Newgarden now is one step away from winning the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge. The industrial staffing giant is offering a bonus of $1-million to the first driver who can win on all three unique styles of tracks _ street circuits, road-courses and ovals _ this season. The reward will be divided, with $500,000 shared by the driver and his team and $500,000 presented to the driver’s chosen charity.

Newgarden’s first opportunity for a road-course victory comes at the next event, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. Newgarden has three career victories at BMS (2015, 2017, 2018).

PeopleReady is offering an additional $10,000 to the winner of every race this season, also to be split with their selected charity. Newgarden is splitting his award from Sunday’s race with SeriousFun Childrens Network and Wags & Walks Nashville.

(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).

Results of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile/11-turn Streets of Long Beach circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    2. (6) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 85, Running
    3. (3) Alex Palou, Honda, 85, Running
    4. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    5. (11) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    6. (16) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
    7. (13) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
    8. (5) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
    9. (14) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 85, Running
    10. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    11. (4) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    12. (17) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    13. (15) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    14. (9) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    15. (20) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running
    16. (26) Tatiana Calderon, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    17. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 83, Contact
    18. (19) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 83, Running
    19. (10) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 81, Running
    20. (25) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 73, Contact
    21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 72, Contact
    22. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 66, Contact
    23. (1) Colton Herta, Honda, 55, Contact
    24. (21) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 55, Contact
    25. (23) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 35, Contact
    26. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 5, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 93.977 mph
Time of Race: 1:46:48.0102
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 4 for 14 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 5 drivers
Lap Leaders:
Herta, Colton 1 – 28
Newgarden, Josef 29
Power, Will 30 – 31
DeFrancesco, Devlin 32
Palou, Alex 33 – 54
Newgarden, Josef 55 – 85

Point standings (top-10): 1, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 118; 2, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 113; 3, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 103; 4, Will Power, Team Penske, 102; 5, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 83; 6, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 75; 7, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 67; 8, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 66; 9, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 63; 10, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 60.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 12 2022
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