Newgarden Makes Late Charge For Phoenix Victory

Josef Newgarden celebrates after winning Saturday night’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at ISM Raceway. Photo by Chris Jones

Armed with a fresh set of tires, Josef Newgarden charged from fourth place in the last seven laps to win the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix going away.

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 roared past Rossi and Hinchcliffe on the outside through turns 1 and 2 before setting his sights on race leader Wickens.

On lap 247, Newgarden again took the high line into turn 1 and maneuvered past Wickens. Rossi 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.”

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. Appropriately with tires playing a pivotal role, it was also win No. 500 for Bridgestone Americas since its 1995 return to Indy car racing with its Firestone and Bridgestone brands.

“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.”

Newgarden’s winning speed of 147.395 mph set a record for a race at ISM Raceway, as well as the number of lead changes (12) and drivers who led (nine). The race was slowed by just 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. Bourdais finished 13th but Rossi, who made an incredible 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.

Verizon IndyCar Series
ISM Raceway – Avondale, AZ
Phoenix Grand Prix – April 7, 2018

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

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

Point Standings: Newgarden 77, Rossi 72, Bourdais 70, Rahal 63, Hunter-Reay 62, Hinchcliffe 61, Dixon 60, Wickens 57, Kanaan 43, Andretti 40.

 

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