Josef Newgarden drove to his first ever win in the Verizon IndyCar series at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday, beating fellow American Graham Rahal by 2.201 seconds on the 2.38-mile road course.
Newgarden, a native of nearby Hendersonville, Tennessee, went to Alabama this weekend with 54 IndyCar starts under his belt and no wins. The 24-year old set himself up for success on Sunday when he qualified fifth, and it was clear when the green flag dropped that Newgarden was going to be a force to be reckoned with throughout the 90-lap race’s duration.
By Turn 6 on Lap 1, Newgarden had worked his way up to third, moving his way around Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon to slot in behind reigning series champ Will Power. Newgarden then made a bold move on Power, passing him on the outside, and began tailing pole sitter Helio Castroneves.
Newgarden held onto the back of Castroneves for the remainder of the opening stint. When it came time to pit, the front-right tire changer on for Castroneves’ team dropped a wheel nut, RACER reports, handing the lead over to Newgarden. The Carpenter-Fisher-Hartman driver held his position until he had to pit again on Lap 35. A mistake in pit road cost Newgarden time, but he was able to make it back and had worked his way back into first by Lap 50.
Behind Newgarden, Castroneves was battling for second with Scott Dixon. The Team Penske driver eventually forfeited his position to Dixon, who was eager to catch Newgarden. But Dixon soon found himself the victim of a determined Graham Rahal, who had put the stickier red compound tires on his car during a Lap 69 pit and was working his way through the field. On the final lap, Rahal made his move and passed Dixon in Turn 9, putting his Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Honda in second behind Newgarden’s Chevy.
Newgarden crossed the finish line 2.2 second ahead of Rahal, making for a podium dominated by American drivers. Dixon crossed the finish line in third, with Team Penske’s Will Power in fourth. The usually dominant Team Penske drivers had their hopes at victory squashed when Power made contact with Takuma Sato earlier on the race, putting out a caution and mixing up the team’s planned pit strategy. Apart from Power, Penske’s best finish came from Simon Pagenaud, who finished ninth overall.
The next event on the IndyCar calendar is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 9th, which will be followed by the Indy 500 on May 24th. Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya currently leads the drivers championship in points with teammate Helio Castroneves and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in second and third, respectively.