AVONDALE, Ariz. – Josef Newgarden had eight laps to catch rookie Robert Wickens. He barely needed half that.
Newgarden used four new tires to easily run down Wickens in the IndyCar race Saturday night at ISM Raceway.
“You never know if you make the right call, but they did,” Newgarden said. “It was good we were on the offense.”
Newgarden started fourth on the restart, and got around Wickens with 3 1/2 laps to go on the 1.022-mile oval. The defending series champion raced to his eighth IndyCar victory and third on an oval, finishing 2.994 seconds ahead of Wickens.
“I was patient all night,” Newgarden said. “I wasn’t forcing it. I struggled with the balance in certain parts of the stint. We were just working on the car. The engineers were doing a really good job getting it back and I knew when it was time to be aggressive.”
Owner Roger Penske won his record ninth series victory at the track and 198th overall.
“It’s a Team Penske win tonight, I’ll tell you that,” Newgarden said. “It wasn’t me. This was a team effort tonight that got it done. … They gave me the pit stops. They had the strategy. I was working with a rocket scientist on the pit stand.”
Wickens was making his first second career start – and first on an oval – for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“I feel like I’m setting the bar a little bit high for myself,” the 29-year-old Canadian said. “But I never would have expected the first two races to go as well as they did.”
Last month in St. Petersburg, Wickens was heading to a victory until two late cautions gave Alexander Rossi a chance to take it away. On a restart with two laps left, Rossi tried to dive inside Wickens, they made contact and Wickens spun off course, handing the win to Sebastien Bourdais.
Rossi was third in on the hot night in the desert, overcoming a drive-through penalty for hitting a crew member.
“It was at that point kind of up to me to try to dig us out of it,” Rossi said. “I was really hoping we would get a yellow to unlap ourselves. We never did. To be in the position that we were with 10 laps to go was a blessing and a huge shout out to the whole crew and the car they gave me.”
Scott Dixon was fourth, and James Hinchcliffe fifth as Honda swept the first five spots in the first oval race of the season. Ed Jones, running second when he hit the wall in Turn 4 with 20 laps left to bring out the final caution, finished 20th.
The 250-lap race was the first oval event for the sleek new car designed to improve competition and cut costs.
Sebastien Bourdais finished a lap down in 13th after starting from the pole. He led the first 43 laps, then slid in his pit box and struck a crew member on the first caution for Pietro Fittipaldi’s brush with the wall.
Bourdais dropped two laps down after a drive-through penalty.
Will Power took over after that, keeping the lead until a green-flag stop on Lap 124. The Australian made light contact with the wall in Turn 2 on Lap 154, ending his night. He finished 22nd.
During the green-flag stops halfway through the race, Matheus Leist left his pit box before the crew replaced the left rear tire. Leist nearly hit an IndyCar official when he purposely spun to turn the car around. The loose tire rolled out of the way in the pit exit lane, and IndyCar didn’t throw the caution flag. The rookie finished 19th.
Tony Kanaan was eighth in his record 284th consecutive series start. The A.J. Foyt driver also broke a tie with Helio Castroneves for third place on the career list with 345 overall starts. A.J. Foyt was with the team three weeks after the 83-year-old racing great was attacked by bees on his West Texas ranch.
USAC Silver Crown
Bobby Santos won the USAC Silver Crown race for the second straight year.
The 32-year-old Franklin, Massachusetts, driver took the No. 22 D.J. Racing Chevrolet through the field after dropping to 16th on an early pit stop for a tire adjustment. He took the lead in a side-by-side battle with Kody Swanson with 20 laps left.
Swanson was second in the 100-lap race for the second year in a row.
Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15.
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