Newgarden Wins St. Louis; Instigates Championship Chaos

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 21 2022

Josef Newgarden leads the pack through a turn during Saturday’s IndyCar Series race. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)

A rain-delayed Saturday night of Midwest, short-track racing has transformed the NTT IndyCar Series championship into a free-for-all.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis, mastering the race-within-a-race created by a two-plus-hour weather delay to pull within three points (482-479) of teammate Will Power for the 2022 Astor Challenge Cup.

The series champion in 2017 and 2019, Newgarden drove to his series-leading fifth victory of the season by 0.4708-seconds over rookie David Malukas, who recorded a career-best finish for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD. Scott McLaughlin finished third in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet despite leading at the restart with 37 laps remaining after a red flag stoppage of 2 hours, 9 minutes due to rain and lightning.

Newgarden recorded his third straight victory on the asymmetrical 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Ill., located in the shadows of the famed Gateway Arch.

“I was so happy we could finish this race,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “Scott McLaughlin, he wanted to win, too. I love that about us. We have a good relationship. He drove me super-fair there at the end.”

Newgarden’s five single-season wins is a career best. In addition, his 25th INDYCAR victory tied him on the all-time list with open-wheel standout Gordon Johncock.

Pato O’Ward finished fourth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, while two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato placed fifth for his best result this season in the No. 51 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. Pole-sitter Power led a race-high 128 of 260 laps but finished sixth in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet.

The results created a tight and tense title chase with two races to go. Seven drivers remain mathematically eligible to win the championship, with just 58 points _ only four more than the maximum awarded at one race _ separating leader Power from seventh-place O’Ward.

The event at WWTR completed the oval-track portion of the 2022 schedule. Up next is the Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Portland International Raceway in Oregon. The season will end with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 11, at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California.

The posted official distance was 260 laps, but the rain delay made it feel like a 213-lapper in daylight followed by a 47-lap Trophy Dash under the lights. When racing resumed at 9:05 p.m. (CDT), track conditions had changed significantly after the rain cleaned the asphalt and lower temperatures after sundown created improved grip.

The starting field returned to the track under caution after the red flag was lifted, and McLaughlin pulled away when the green flag flew on Lap 224. But Newgarden wasted no time tucking under McLaughlin’s gearbox on the back straightaway and dove under his teammate in Turn 3 on Lap 225 _ first full lap after the restart _ to take the lead for good.

“We just had to have a good start,” Newgarden said. “I knew Scott was going to be good at the end there, and he had a great restart. I just tried to work the high lane. The high lane worked earlier for me. We just had enough to get by him. He was no slouch this weekend.

“You got to win these races when you’re in position to do it. I wanted to close that one out really badly _ really badly. I was elated. Elated that we were able to get back going and I had the opportunity on the restart.

“I’m thankful to my teammate. I thought Scott drove me with a tremendous amount of respect. He raced me hard, he wasn’t giving me anything, but just gave me a lot of respect like you would expect from a teammate. I think he goes above and beyond sometimes.

“Big night for us, PPG, Team Chevy. Can’t talk enough about Team Chevy. Had the engine to beat tonight, no doubt. We had great fuel mileage, reliability, power _ all the things we always want. A big night for everybody on Team Penske. Very good for us in the championship fight.”

McLaughlin stayed within approximately six-tenths of a second of his teammate for the closing 34 laps but couldn’t find a way past. He settled for his sixth podium of the season and seventh podium of his two-year INDYCAR career. Four of those seven top-three results have been scored on ovals.

“Yeah, after the sun went away, lost my balance in that last stint,” said McLaughlin, the native of New Zealand and a three-time Australian V8 Supercars Series champion. “Didn’t have what Josef and David had. David was strong, coming at us really hard. Obviously, me and Josef pulled away. I sort of knew I didn’t have much.

“Yeah, that second-to-last lap, I got a little bit loose off of (Turns) 3 and 4. Dave got a good run. I could see what he was doing. I couldn’t get out wide because of the confidence I had in the rear of the car. But he did a phenomenal job. He’s been doing an amazing job all year. First podium in INDYCAR is pretty hard to come by, especially on a short oval.”

McLaughlin said he tried to anticipate what Malukas might do in a bid to break up the Team Penske 1-2. “Yeah. I mean, I did what I thought,” McLaughlin said. “I went the high line against Josef, that didn’t work. I went low line against Dave thinking, ‘He’s a rookie, he might, he might not.’ Then he did. Oh, well, I was wrong. Went around the outside.

“It was a solid move. It was awesome. That’s what oval racing is all about. I left him enough room, he left me enough room, we got through there two-by-two. It was a stellar pass. What we’re doing with building the lanes, making them really nice for oval racing, is really cool.

“I’m absolutely disappointed. I felt like we were really solid there in the daylight. Yeah, sort of lost it there at the end. Look, a win would have been really nice tonight. Ultimately top-five would be fantastic right now. But we’re still in the fight, which is the main thing. Two races to go, who knows what will happen? Yeah, still feeling like we’re just going to attack these next two races with nothing to lose, have a bit of fun.”

Meanwhile, Malukas put an exclamation point on the most complete drive of his fledgling career to advance from fifth at the restart to second at the finish. The Chicago-area native moved into third by passing native Mexican O’Ward on Lap 245 and then set his sights on Newgarden and McLaughlin.

“We ended up getting around O’Ward and getting past a lapped car,” said Malukas, a 20-year-old Lithuanian-American. “And they (his pit box) said, ‘You see them in front,’ and I saw two Penskes and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re Penskes!’ They were tough.”

While he never challenged Newgarden, Malukas passed McLaughlin for second on the final lap with a brave, full-send outside move in Turn 1. Malukas’ previous-best finish was eighth last month during the second race of the doubleheader on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway bull ring in Newton.

Newgarden said he was well-aware of Malukas’ push to the front. “I thought, ‘Wow, that kid is hungry probably. Probably send it around the outside if he had an opportunity.’ I assumed it was what happened (to McLaughlin). I was real happy it was the last lap.”

Newgarden said Malukas might have had a shot at passing him if the race was several laps longer. “Hard to say,” Newgarden said. “He was a little better on (Firestone Firehawk) tires it sounds like. I think McLaughlin went loose. I was not. I was sort of managing the gap. I was actually trying to help Scott. I didn’t want to stay too far away to bunch Scott up to David, so I was trying to push the pace a bit. But I still had some on hand.

“I think if David mounted like a real effort on me, I would have had more to push on him. But I don’t know. Ten more laps, maybe he gets me. It’s impossible to say.”

Teams attempted various pit strategies during the race’s second half when rain in the forecast finally arrived. Malukas and Sato were on an alternate strategy that pushed Malukas into the lead from Laps 207-211, but he was forced to pit. The rain arrived just two laps later.

It appeared pit strategy and traffic may have foiled Newgarden and strategist Tim Cindric just before the rain arrived. McLaughlin pitted from second on Lap 207. Newgarden stopped one lap later from the lead but followed rookie Christian Lundgaard of Denmark in the No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing into the pits, with Newgarden’s pit-in lap clocking 1.065-seconds slower than McLaughlin’s. Scotty Mac kept the lead when Newgarden blended back onto the racetrack after his stop, holding the point until the red flag.

“I was pleasantly surprised and very, very satisfied with my car tonight,” Newgarden said. “I thought it was hooked up tremendously once we got about midway through the race. It was a bit processional in the first half. Literally every car just went to fuel-save. Everyone wanted to try to make the three-stop work. I was surprised at how many people committed. Seemed like the whole field flipped to it. Wasn’t a lot happening then.

“As soon as that caution (on Lap) 150, 155, something like that, when it provided that opportunity to pit again, it changed things up, put people on different strategies. That made it really exciting.

“I thought our car was able to maximize that strategy opportunity. So, I’m real thankful to my team for picking that out. You can’t win this race without nailing calls like that, being good in the pits. There was a moment I thought it was slipping away from us, too. Ultimately they made the right calls and we were able to close it out.”

Power settled for sixth with a bit of second-guessing on strategy. Obviously we wanted more. We made a mistake and didn’t take that yellow (to pit),” Power said. “That’s INDYCAR. It’s never straight-forward. You expect that in the championship. It might come back to us in the next two in a different way. That’s how it is. 

“We’ve got some good tracks coming up. Like I predicted, it will be a tough battle all the way to the end. I’ve been around a long time and know how these things go. The best thing about today is that we finished in the top-six, so that’s still pretty good.”

The 2014 series champion from Australia, Power began the weekend Friday by scoring his 67th career pole to tie open-wheel icon Mario Andretti for the all-time series record. Andretti had stood alone as INDYCAR’s qualifying ace since Aug. 1, 1993.

Per the Penske Way, Newgarden is anticipating a respectful intramural battle with Power and McLaughlin over the remaining two races. “I think we’re just going to race like we always do,” Newgarden said. “It’s kind of as simple as that. We race all year, we race hard. It’s not going to be the first time Will and I have raced together. We’ve had many, many races that have been in lockstep, 1-2, pit strategy, the whole thing. We’ll just fight it out as normal.

“Clearly, we don’t want to do something that jeopardizes the whole group because it is bigger than us. At the end of the day we’ve got three cars in the fight still. There’s nothing that matters more than putting a Team Penske car in Victory Lane.

“As much as I want that to be me _ believe me I do _ I will work to be that person, we also have to just make sure we remember that it’s about all of us and it’s about all the effort we put in. We have to make sure one car secures the championship. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn ugly at some point.”


Matthew Brabham rallied from a gutting disappointment last month at Iowa Speedway, driving past point-leader and pole-sitter Linus Lundqvist to win Saturday’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Australian-American Brabham drove his No. 83 Andretti Autosport car to victory by 0.6770-seconds over the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne entry of Lundqvist. It was Brabham’s second victory of the season, his first coming in late February at the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. 

Benjamin Pedersen finished third in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports car. Teammate Danial Frost finished fourth in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry, followed by rookie Hunter McElrea in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport car.

Brabham saved his best for last in a caution-free race. Lundqvist led the first 71 laps of the 75-lapper on the 1.25-mile oval, but Brabham used his preferred high line strategy to gain momentum in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 72. Brabham then dove under Lundqvist in Turn 3 for the decisive pass.

“I could tell he was starting to get loose toward the end of the race,” Brabham said. “I think I showed too much of what I could do there in Iowa, in the top lane. I told the guys on my team I don’t want to show anyone anything because I think they’re learning too much from me, especially my teammates. I was saving that top line for the last couple of laps.”

Indeed, the win provided a sense of redemption for Brabham, son of former IMSA and INDYCAR driver Geoff Brabham and grandson of three-time Formula One World Driving Champion Sir Jack Brabham.

Recall that Matthew Brabham challenged Lundqvist for the lead via the outside lane with five laps to go in the previous oval event on July 23 at Iowa Speedway. Lundqvist moved up the track and their cars touched, damaging Brabham’s front wing and dropping him to third at the finish. Lundqvist was assessed a three-spot penalty for avoidable contact and tumbled from first to fourth in the final running order. Brabham’s teammate McElrea inherited the victory.

“I just wanted to win so badly, especially after Iowa,” Brabham said. “I just had that grit.”

Lundqvist couldn’t shake Brabham for the first 71 laps Saturday, but controlled a gap of around six-to- seven-tenths of a second for the first 60 laps. Brabham then moved to the high line to gain momentum and sliced into the margin, trailing by 0.1936-seconds on Lap 71 before making the decisive pass on the next trip around the asymmetrical oval in the shadow of the famed Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

While Lundqvist fell short of his sixth victory of the season, the overall picture is very clear _the Swedish driver is zeroing-in on the series championship. Lundqvist leads second-place Brabham by 108 points with just three races remaining. Lundqvist needs to lead by 109 after the next event, Sunday, Sept. 4, at Portland International Raceway in Oregon, to clinch the title. Live coverage from Portland is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. (EDT) on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

A doubleheader Sept. 10-11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California will conclude the season.


Results Saturday of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    2. (12) David Malukas, Honda, 260, Running
    3. (4) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    4. (7) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    5. (8) Takuma Sato, Honda, 260, Running
    6. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 260, Running
    7. (2) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 260, Running
    8. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 260, Running
    9. (5) Alex Palou, Honda, 260, Running
    10. (16) Graham Rahal, Honda, 260, Running
    11. (11) Colton Herta, Honda, 259, Running
    12. (9) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 259, Running
    13. (18) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 259, Running
    14. (21) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 259, Running
    15. (17) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 259, Running
    16. (26) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 259, Running
    17. (20) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 258, Running
    18. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 258, Running
    19. (19) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 258, Running
    20. (13) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 257, Running
    21. (22) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 257, Running
    22. (25) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 256, Running
    23. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 244, Running
    24. (14) Jack Harvey, Honda, 239, Running
    25. (10) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 226, Running
    26. (23) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 53, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 149.231 mph
Time of Race: 02:10:40.1827
Margin of victory: 0.4708-seconds
Cautions: 2 for 22 laps
Lead changes: 13 among 10 drivers

Lap Leaders
Power 1 – 58
Ericsson 59
Rosenqvist 60
Grosjean 61 – 62
Power 63 – 123
O’Ward 124 – 126
Sato 127 – 148
Power 149 – 157
O’Ward 158 – 164
Newgarden 165 – 206
Malukas 207 – 210
Rahal 211 – 212
McLaughlin 213 – 224
Newgarden 225 – 260

NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10) _ 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 482; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 479; 3, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 468; 4, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 465; 5, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 439; 6, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 428; 7, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 424; 8, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 340; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 335; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 334.

Indy Lights Series point standings (top-10) _ 1, Linus Lundqvist, 480; 2, Matthew Brabham, 372; 3, Hunter McElrea, 371; 4, Sting Ray Robb, 361; 5, Benjamin Pedersen, 331; 6, Christian Rasmussen, 320; 7, Danial Frost, 310; 8, Jacob Abel. 261; 9, Kyffin Simpson. 254; 10, Ernie Francis Jr., 239.

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 (1995) 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, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 21 2022
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