Penske driver Josef Newgarden came seemingly from nowhere to win the latest electrifying NTT IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
The 2019 championship leader fended off Alexander Rossi in a thrilling duel over the final 10 laps to capture the DXC Technology 600. Newgarden, in the #2 Fitzgerald USA Team Penske Chevrolet, won by 0.8164 of a second to collect his 13th career win, third this season and first on a superspeedway.
“Feels awesome to win here,” Newgarden said. “I knew we’d get it done here at some point. We’ve had fast cars (but) it never has materialized. Tonight, it happened.”
Starting seventh in the 22-car field, Newgarden didn’t lead until Lap 190 of the 248-lap event on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval. A lightning-quick final pit stop on Lap 198, accompanied by lightning-fast laps before and after the stop, put the 28-year-old Tennessean in position to retake the lead on the 202nd lap, and he never surrendered it.
“This win was down to the team,” Newgarden said. “I knew once we pitted and basically got back to where we were before the pit stop on the green-flag sequence, we had such a fuel advantage on everybody. If we could get to the lead, I could crank out super-quick laps and jump everybody. That’s what we did.”
Rossi, driving the #27 GESS/Capstone Honda, ran second behind Newgarden for the final restart on Lap 236. Time and again in the closing laps, Rossi pulled alongside as the duo launched into Turn 1, but each time Newgarden kept the low line and held off the Andretti Autosport driver.
“I think we had a good car, could obviously get a good run on him off of (Turns) 3 and 4,” Rossi said. “Lane 2 (the outside line) was really never there for me. We could get halfway around the outside (but) would have to bail out.
“Ultimately, then it became about trying to beat him for the (start/finish) line. But we took out a lot of the tire life going in Lane 2 there, so we just didn’t have the rear tires there at the end to stay close to him. I didn’t see him up front all day. All of a sudden, he appears in P1, so obviously they’re doing a good job. He had a fast car once he got in front.”
Graham Rahal finished third, rookie Santino Ferrucci fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth. It marked the first time Americans swept the top five spots in an Indy car race since 2001 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, when Al Unser Jr., Mark Dismore, Sam Hornish Jr., Eddie Cheever and Robbie Buhl finished first through fifth.
Saturday’s race was the 31st for the NTT IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway, which has become home to some of the most exciting finishes in history since the track opened in 1997. This year’s event was no exception.
The race ran caution-free for more than the first half, until Zach Veach brushed the SAFER Barrier exiting Turn 2 on Lap 135. The #26 Gainbridge Honda did a 360-degree spin but Veach kept it off the wall and came to a stop in Turn 3 with only slight suspension damage and a flat tire.
The second caution occurred when James Hinchcliffe slid wide into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on Lap 219. The final yellow waved when the cars of Scott Dixon and rookie Colton Herta touched while battling for third place in Turn 3 on Lap 229, sending both into the SAFER Barrier. All drivers were unhurt from the incidents.
The caution for the Dixon-Herta incident set up the shootout to the finish between Newgarden and Rossi.
“I knew he was going to be difficult to beat,” Newgarden said of Rossi. “He had a great car. He drove me clean, he drove me hard.
“I think we had enough power therefrom Chevy. Our car was handling well enough out front (that) we could get the job done, pretty much stay on the throttle as much as we needed to just to stay ahead of him.”
With the win, Newgarden extended his lead in the standings to 25 points over Rossi and 48 over Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who finished sixth on Saturday.
Pole sitter Takuma Sato led the first 60 laps of the race until making his first pit stop in the #30 ABeam Consulting Honda. But the car slid into the pit stall and made contact with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing front tire changer Chris Welch. Sato has assessed a stop-and-go penalty for hitting a crewman. Welch was evaluated and released from the track’s infield care centre.
Ferrucci collected a career-best fourth-place finish in the #19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Hunter-Reay led a race-high 90 laps in the #28 DHL Honda but was forced to make an extra stop for fuel and wound up fifth.
Tony Kanaan finished 16th in the #14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, in the 369th race of the Brazilian’s Indy car career. It tied Kanaan with team owner A.J. Foyt for second place on the Indy car all-time list. Kanaan also extended his record streak of consecutive race starts to 309.
The next NTT IndyCar Series race is the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday, June 23.