The big race returned to Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday as a frequent pass and thrilling slingshot finish as Penske’s Joseph Newgarden denied teammate Scott McLaughlin’s first oval win at the finish line. After 248 laps of exhausting action, Newgarden outscored McLaughlin to win by 0.0669sec; Newgarden was credited with driving three laps to the 186 McLaughlin controlled on behalf of Penske and Chevrolet.
“It was definitely a race of patience,” Newgarden said after taking his 21st win in IndyCar. “We had a lot of ordeals to work through; we had a right front tire that was loosening on the first job. At the start of the second half, I blew my doors off by everyone. I have to go back to sixth or seventh. In the end, I literally admitted two laps to say, ‘Hey Man, that’s not going to happen.” I was like, “It’s over.” You know, he did a good job. He was in his position, he’s going to win this race, and you’re just going to take him home.”
Newgarden’s approach changed when using traffic in front of McLaughlin to run him over and win a drag race to a checkered flag.
“The traffic just gave it a great opportunity to chase it down and try to do something to win this race,” Newgarden added. “So I went to the top side and said, ‘You know what, if I hit the fence, I hit the fence. Scott would still win and it would be a great day for the team. If I didn’t hit the fence, I don’t know what was going to happen. So before.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson – in another strong performance – drove his foundation home in third as the top seven were filled by drivers Penske and Ganassi. Penske’s Will Power finished fourth, Scott Dixon trailing fifth, ahead of teammates Jimmy Johnson in sixth and Alex Ballou in seventh.
After Johnson’s performance in the 48th Honda Championship, the most impressive drive of the day belonged to Santino Ferrucci’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing who went from being a passer-by on Saturday to taking Jack Harvey’s place on Sunday, racing from last to ninth. At No. 45 Honda.
The race wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge improvement over the last cars in Texas where drivers were stuck on the lower lane due to the application of NASCAR’s PJ1 traction compound to the top lanes. With the increased downforce allowed by the chainring and Firestone’s modified tires, even more aggressive pass attempts – getting into Turn 1, exiting Turn 2 and Turn 4 – are possible.
Not all attempts to pass were successful. Some drivers contacted others, while individual accidents, mechanical and engine problems led to nine drivers dropping out of the race.
Newgarden believes it was the greatest win of his career. McLaughlin thought he should have held firm to admit defeat. Chevy drove over 200 laps and finished 1-2-4 to extend the constructors’ championship lead over Honda. In just a couple of weeks we’ll meet again to see if the Penske-Chevy train can be stopped at Honda Stadium or if the Penske trio will continue to own the first part of the season.
as it happened
The 248 lap race started with Felix Rosenqvist leading from pole position but Scott McLaughlin took pole position at the end of the first lap. Alexander Rossi seemed to start running early towards the green flag as he passed a number of cars outside.
Colton Herta was moving early, even P6 from P9 for the first few laps. Rossi was initially penalized for his jump but before he could take the penalty, he slowed to a crawl due to problems with the suspected generator. The first caution came on lap 13; restart on lap 16; Instigated Kyle Kirkwood, Graham Rahal, Dalton Kellett, and Santino Ferrucci.
Patou Oward went on charge, using parts of the second lane to execute passes; Went to P8 after coming back early. On lap 28, Kirkwood advanced to P10 as McLaughlin held 0.28secs ahead of Rosenqvist. After the Swede, Takuma Sato was behind by 0.87 seconds, then Herta by 1.3 seconds and Will Power by 2.0 seconds.
Graham Rahal almost hit the Turn 4 wall on lap 53 when he came across a Rinus VeeKay slip. Late tire life concerns are starting to surface soon. VeeKay pitted the next lap, bringing a three-stop race into question. Marcus Ericsson was on lap 57 and was joined by Joseph Newgarden and Captain McLaughlin moments later. Rosenqvist was next on lap 59. Christian Lundgaard had a long pit stop on lap 61 as the fuel took a while to transfer while Sato held onto the lead with Hertha and Bauer trailing. Sato instigated at the end of lap 61.
Sato was denied access to his dig box where the Mallukas had gone for so long in his house; With the exchanges, Kirkwood took the lead. Pit lane speed penalty for Conor Daly.
Kirkwood drilled off the lead on lap 67.
With the pit stop, McLaughlin, Newgarden, Oward, Rosenqvist, Hertha and Dixon were in the top six. McLaughlin was 12.4secs ahead of his teammate Newgarden in P2 by lap 79.
Attempting to pass fast traffic cut McLaughlin’s lead in half through Lap 95 as Newgarden ran 6.4secs behind him. Lap 99 brought the second warning as Devlin DeFrancesco slipped into Turn 1 and made contact with Sato right to back forward left to forward with Sato who went up the track and gently hit the wall of Turn 2 before making his way into the pits.
Lap 104 saw the field stalled and both O’Ward and Rosenqvist had major digging issues. O’Ward slipped into his trunk and hit the left front tire changer. The crew had to turn the car back and then perform the service. The Rosenqvist also slipped too long in his box and had to be pulled back, then the right rear tire shifter needed a second try to get the wheel tightened, which added more time to the process. Roman Grosjean instigated with the leftover smoke from his Andretti Honda and got out of the car.
Rosenqvist and O’Ward fell out of the top six and rejoined in P16 and P17. Field leadership at this point: McLaughlin, Newgarden, Bauer, Dixon, Erickson, and Vicki. The restart came on lap 114 in just one lap when Kirkwood made a spin after going up the PJ1 complex and crashed into Turn 4. He appeared to be unhurt.
O’Ward was punished for hitting one of his crew members – Norm Hornitschek – and under caution to replace his front wing. He lost a roll in the interchange and restarted the P21.
The reboot of Lap 129 saw DeFrancesco, Castroneves and Rahal come into the wall in Turns 3 and 4. Castroneves was an innocent spectator as DeFrancesco slid below the white line and climbed up to Rahal who hit Castroneves. All drivers were seen and exited from the care centre.
The 140-day lap ended Rosenqvist with a mechanical problem in the back right corner.
The Lap 150 restart was a Penske 1-2-3 as McLaughlin led Newgarden and Power and Newgarden made passes at the end of the lap. VeeKay was on charge up to P2 at Lap 153 as McLaughlin reclaimed the lead. Newgarden slipped into P4 after Dixon passed. Ericsson was next to be demoted to P6.
VeeKay took the lead on Lap 160. Will Power passed McLaughlin and VeeKay in one fell swoop to take the lead on lap 164. Dixon improved to P3.
The top ten fuel savers and tire managers in Lap 177: Power, VeeKay, Dixon, McLaughlin, Ericsson, Newgarden, Herta, Pagenaud, Johnson, Ferrucci.
McLaughlin moved to P2 and Newgarden to P5. Ericsson took the lead at Lap 185 as the tires started to become an issue for most of the remaining sprinters. VeeKay was the first to pit among the leaders on lap 187. He pitted Herta at the end of the lap. He lost a lot of time – 14.5 seconds to a total stop because the nut of the left front wheel rejected the torque. I have lost the bosom as a result of the problem.
He pitted McLaughlin on lap 192. Newgarden and Power followed him at the end of lap. Ericsson was on lap 184.
Lundgaard cut the wall at Lap 232, damaging his right front wing. McLaughlin, Newgarden and Ericson battled for the top three with McLaughlin leading by 0.6sec. Herta was told in P11 that he needed to save fuel and VeeKay couldn’t make it to the finish on his tank.
When it seemed that McLaughlin was safe, Newgarden shocked and lost his mind in the car celebrating.
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