Newgarden wins IndyCar Series opener at St. Pete

When Josef Newgarden ran longer, harder and faster (got it, ladies?) in a middle stint of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it paid off with victory at the end.

Newgarden kicked off the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season victorious by 2.8998 seconds over reigning series champion Scott Dixon. It was the 11th triumph of Newgarden’s eight-year NTT IndyCar Series career but first on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course that incorporates a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.

“I feel like we executed today,” Newgarden said. “We were very patient in the beginning of the race. We had a right-to-left, different tire strategy again today, and it really paid off. I actually think it’s what helped us create the opportunity.

“We found our footing (in Saturday qualifying) and finished it off right today.”

The win by Newgarden extended Team Penske’s run of success at St. Petersburg to nine victories in the event’s 16-race history. It was also the 204th win all time by the Indy car team, most in the sport, and returned Chevrolet atop the podium after the engine supplier went winless on temporary street circuits last season.

Newgarden started the 110-lap race second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet behind teammate and NTT P1 Award pole sitter Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Content to run in the top three early on, Newgarden made the decisive move by extending his second race stint one to five laps longer than the other frontrunners. It allowed the Tennessean to lay down key quicker laps on an open track, so that when he pitted for fuel and tires on Lap 55, Newgarden returned to the action in first place and on a new set of Firestone alternate tires while his nearest competitors were on the harder primary tires.

The 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion led 59 of the final 60 laps, pushing the advantage to more than seven seconds before Dixon trimmed the gap near the finish.

“When we went out on brand new reds (alternate tires), we were able to open up a huge chunk,” Newgarden said. “It was just really good timing and positioning, and once we established that gap, it was about managing it, really. We didn’t have to blow it wide open and we didn’t need to see it shrink too quickly, but we let it seesaw back and forth how it needed to.”

Dixon finished second at St. Pete for the fourth time and has never won the race in 15 tries. The five-time series champion, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, has 41 second-place results in a 19-year career, tying him for second on the all-time race runner-up list with Helio Castroneves. Mario Andretti is first with 56 second-place finishes.

“All in all, a great day for the whole PNC Bank crew,” Dixon said. “Pit stops were phenomenal, great points. Obviously, we were going for a win so we just came one stop short, but congrats to Josef. (He) drove a hell of a race there and great strategy.” 

Power led 17 early laps before finishing third. It’s the 71st time the 2014 series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner has been on the podium in a 15-year career.

“Definitely a lot better points here than I’ve done in the past two years, so I’m really happy about that,” said Power, who finished 10th last year at St. Pete, 19th in 2017 and didn’t race in 2016 due to illness. “We put ourselves in a really tough position pitting early there. 

“I just kind of did my best to maintain a third-place finish. I got more points than the last two years so we’re in the game (for the championship).”

Felix Rosenqvist, making his first NTT IndyCar Series start in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, placed fourth after leading 31 early laps. Rosenqvist was among three rookies to finish in the top 10, with Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) eighth and Santino Ferrucci (Dale Coyne Racing) ninth.

“It’s a lot to take in,” Rosenqvist said. “I’m worn out. These cars are tough to drive. I’ve never driven anything like it, but it’s a dream come true just to be here.”

“We have a lot to work on,” he added. “I think I underestimated how much the track grips up. Still a lot of things to learn, but P4 is a great way to start.”

The race was slowed by two early full-course caution periods, tying for the fewest in race history. The first came on Lap 20 when Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered a mechanical failure in the No. 28 DHL Honda on the frontstretch. 

The second caution occurred on Lap 26 when Ed Jones hit the wall in Turn 9 in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Chevrolet and Matheus Leist clipped Jones’ car while racing past in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Both cars were eliminated in the incident and Jones sustained a small non-displaced fracture of the distal fourth metacarpal in his left ring finger, according to Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director. Jones had the finger splinted and is scheduled to see a hand surgeon, but it is expected that proper splinting will permit him to continue participating in racing activities.

Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile Streets of St. Petersburg, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running

2. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running

3. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 110, Running

4. (3) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 110, Running

5. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 110, Running

6. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 110, Running

7. (13) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 110, Running

8. (11) Colton Herta, Honda, 110, Running

9. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 110, Running

10. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 110, Running

11. (16) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 110, Running

12. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 109, Running

13. (17) Marco Andretti, Honda, 109, Running

14. (14) Zach Veach, Honda, 109, Running

15. (21) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 109, Running

16. (24) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 109, Running

17. (8) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 109, Running

18. (12) Ben Hanley, Chevrolet, 108, Running

19. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 75, Mechanical

20. (18) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 54, Mechanical

21. (15) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 25, Contact 

22. (22) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 25, Contact

23. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 19, Mechanical

24. (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 11, Mechanical

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 95.572 mph

Time of Race: 2:04:18.2588

Margin of victory: 2.8998 seconds

Cautions: 2 for 11 laps

Lead changes: 8 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders:

Power, Will 1 – 12, Rosenqvist, Felix 13 – 15, Newgarden, Josef 16, Rossi, Alexander 17 – 18, Power, Will 19 – 23, Rosenqvist, Felix 24 – 50, Newgarden, Josef 51 – 79, Rosenqvist, Felix 80, Newgarden, Josef 81 – 110

‘What They’re Saying’ from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet), Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race winner: “We were literally talking about (tire strategy) right before the race. We were trying to figure out, should we go used (tires) or new Firestone reds (alternate tires) and we made the call at the last minute to stay with used (tires). We’ll have that advantage if we need it and we used it. It just worked out perfectly. I just can’t thank Chevy enough for all their support and what they put in this weekend. We had an incredible engine, we had everything we needed in fuel mileage and reliability and all the power. I’m telling you, we really figured things out on Saturday and it was a rocket ship. I’m so thankful to our group. We have the best of the best working at Team Penske.”

“Well, we’ve started on the right foot, for sure. I think we made a big step. We felt positive about the step that we made, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year. At street courses I think we feel better on. We’ve got to convert that to road courses now at COTA and then obviously, Indianapolis is going to be a priority. Let’s see where we’re at a little later on in the year.”
“I’m telling you! It was definitely manufacturers playing good guys with each other, but it was really tough. I just didn’t want to see people in front of me. I wanted to keep running my laps. I knew I had the pace to keep in front of Scott (Dixon), but I was just worried about something going wrong. And when you have that many cars in front that can happen. But, everyone was kind enough, I would say. It was still hard, but kind enough.”
ROGER PENSKE, TEAM OWNER: “It’s always great to have so much success on the track, especially to start the season. We’ve had a strong start with our NASCAR program and locking Brad and Joey into the playoffs. And getting two early wins with our Supercar program and the new Mustang has been great for our group in Australia.
“Now to come out here and have a pole with Will, sweep the front row and win the race with Josef is a great way to start our season on the INDYCAR side with Chevrolet. Next week, we will be at Sebring and try to get our ACURA Team Penske program in victory lane in the historic 12 hours race.
“But we need to keep looking out the windshield. The competition in all these series is strong and they will keep improving. So we need to keep pushing. There is a long season ahead of us.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Unfortunately, not the ideal race that we wanted. I ended up hitting the No. 20 car on the restart, so another bad race here in St. Pete, but it is what it is. Sometimes it’s just not your day and you’ve got to keep working hard for the next one. I’m looking forward to the next (race) at COTA (Circuit of The Americas) now.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “It’s not the finish we wanted. The Arrow car, honestly, had more pace than that. The first stint we were stuck behind Graham (Rahal), and we weren’t able to make up spots in that. About two-thirds of the way into the race, a banner started to come off in Turn 3, and unfortunately, a part of it wrapped around our front wing. These cars are so aero-sensitive that we lost a ton of downforce. Unfortunately, we got behind (Max) Chilton and he had no respect for lead lap cars. With the banner on the wing, I don’t know if we would’ve made many more positions than that so we will take it.

“I think we’ve shown our competitiveness. We obviously didn’t get where we needed in qualifying because of an issue we found after the fact. Our race pace was stronger than the end results, so we just have to go to Austin and execute every single day and every single lap of every session, and hopefully, we will be at the front.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “It was a great race up until the end. We started quite far back, farther back than what we think we should’ve started. It was going well and we were well inside the top 10 when we had the problem (mechanical issue). Looking at what’s happening now, we were definitely going for a top eight in the Arrow car. It was just a shame because it was a really great race up until then.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “All in all, a great day for the whole PNC Bank crew. Pit stops were phenomenal. Great points. Obviously, we were going for a win, so we just came one stop short, but congrats to Josef (Newgarden). Drove a hell of a race there and great strategy.” (About why he likes racing in St. Petersburg): “I think it’s fun. It’s technical. I think it’s the atmosphere. The city, as they say, embraces the race, and they do. Even walking around downtown, I think everybody – for me at least, living in Indianapolis – it’s nice to get some warm weather, especially this week. But I don’t know, the traffic has passing opportunities, Turn 1, Turn 4, you can maybe get sneaky occasionally, but a lot of circuits don’t have that combination. You’ve got to give Kim (Green) and Kevin (Savoree) a lot of credit, obviously Firestone, too, for sponsoring this event, but it just has a great feel about it, kicking off the season, I think everybody is happy to start the season.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Top five is for sure satisfying, I think there was a bit more in it. I think some pit stops there didn’t really go as planned, but the NTT Data Honda was really good today. I think it was a good enough package to win the race. Just some small things didn’t go our way, but I’m really happy to be up here. I really have to thank my team, Chip Ganassi Racing, for starting off the season better than anyone could have expected.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet), NTT P1 Award winner: “It was definitely a lot better points day than I’ve had in the past two years, so I’m really happy about that. We put ourselves in a tough position pitting early there. We had no defense. And really, me losing that position on the restart, I was stuck. I couldn’t pull the gap to negate the cold tire penalty because I was pitting early. I just kind of did my best to maintain a third-place finish. That was as much as we could do in that situation. We got more points than in the last two years, so we’re in the game.

“Yeah, that was good clean racing. Man, he was so good off that last corner, I was surprised. He got a run on me and we were wheel-to-wheel there for a bit. It was good racing for sure.”
“NASCAR and now IndyCar shows how strong the team is, and Chevrolet. They’ve done a great job with the engines. When I think about it, we’ve done a lot of work for street courses in the off-season and that’s paid off.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough race for us. We didn’t have the pace today. I mean, we tried. We had a pretty good start and then we caught a yellow (flag) that we didn’t need. It was one of those days that nothing goes right. Once we got going, we definitely didn’t have the pace to fight with those guys, so we just settled in. We needed a finish. Tough day.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda):
“I thought the United Rentals machine was pretty strong today and I thought the race was shaping up OK for us. We had a good first pit stop and I thought we were headed down the right path. Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) was about equal to us. I thought we were maybe a little better than Alex (Rossi), but we were struggling to get around (Jack) Harvey at that point. And Hinch said the same: he had a ton of straightline speed. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. It was a shame to get a puncture when we did. We’ve been on a little string of bad luck the last few races – the end of last year and to kick off this year – but hopefully, it will turn around in a hurry. I’m excited and happy with what I saw though. Our competitiveness this weekend versus last year here is definitely better. My hopes and expectations are pretty high.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda):
“It wasn’t the weekend the No.18 SealMaster Honda team was looking for. A tough deal. No qualifying yesterday with a car that seemed to be pretty quick, then unfortunately, we had a non-team related issue with the car which took us out of the race. Really a shame, but we’ll regroup, keep working and see what we can do next race.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 David Yurman Honda):
“I can’t thank the No. 19 David Yurman, Cly-Del Manufacturing Dale Coyne Racing team enough. We found something in morning warmup that was unexpected and we made it work in the race. Our engineer, Michael Cannon, called a brilliant strategy and I had to do a lot of fuel saving, to say the least. We kept it clean and in the top 10 and that was the goal. I’m really happy with today’s result, especially considering where we started.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet):
“It’s been a frustrating weekend so far. We had the pace to be at the front in qualifying. Then today, the guys gave me a great race car. We had to take risks to get forward quickly. I made it from 16th to ninth, then I just tried to get a run on (James) Hinchcliffe unfortunately I clipped the inside wall in Turn 9 and that was it. I’m sorry for the team; they did great work and they deserved a better result.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet):
“Overall, it was a fairly frustrating first half of the race. I got shuffled back at the start and we really didn’t find our groove until later on. After that, we were able to make up some ground and gain some positions. Overall, we definitely have come away with a lot of things in mind to improve on for next time out at COTA. I appreciate all the support from Autogeek and my guys. We’ll try our best to fight up higher on the grid in a couple of weeks.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet):
“I had a fantastic time out there. The Menards Chevy was phenomenal today. It was really unfortunate that we didn’t have an opportunity to put a lap down in (the qualifying session) yesterday, which put us way back on the starting grid. Being able to come up through the field with this high level of competition was pretty amazing. The No. 22 crew was on it today making great calls and executing fast pit stops. We’re off to a great start for 2019.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet): “It was a disappointing result from a day with a lot of promise, but I can’t thank the No. 23 crew enough. The No. 23 Tresiba® Carlin Chevrolet was quick all day carrying over from qualifying yesterday. We just got caught out and knocked the front flap off on one of those restarts. Even though the restarts are pretty frantic, you really have to make the most of them with it being so hard to pass around here. It was just unfortunate. We had to come in and change the front wing putting us a lap down, but we kept fighting and learned a lot about the car and what we need to do on the next street circuit.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda):
“Obviously, not the day that we wanted. It just seemed to be a bit of a messy race – not on our part, but in general. We made a change overnight with the car that I think may have made things a little more complicated. We got hit into Turn 1 by (Takuma) Sato at some point and that kind of shuffled us back, and that’s where we ended up running. I feel we did what we could with what we had today. I’m thankful for all the work the guys put in and happy to have the support from Gainbridge here. I’m looking forward to going on to COTA – if you have one bad one a year, we got ours out of the way up front.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was really all we had, pretty much where we started. It’s good for points, but it’s disappointing (because) you always come to races wanting a win. It was a good setup in the race, I just think we were one step behind our competition. We found the optimal setup, or at least a car that I was comfortable with, but we need to be a little more on top of it. Nonetheless, a good recovery by the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport boys.”

“We just gradually lost power today. Honda has been doing such a great job for us. They give us tremendous powerplants and great drivability, so we’ll have to go back and look at it. We definitely had a lot of positives this weekend for the DHL team. It’s unfortunate. Somehow, we have to avoid the bad luck and we’ll make a run for the championship. This one definitely stings. It’s going to put us behind the eight ball in points. We’ll figure it out. I have a great team behind me, and we’ll keep soldiering on. I have to thank all the fans for coming out and supporting us though – the NTT IndyCar Series has the best fans.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Panasonic / Seeman Holtz Honda): “Everyone was on the same tire strategy. I think it’s the first time since Firestone brought out the red (alternate) tire that everyone chose to start on the same one, which means it was quite difficult to make a different strategy. Having said that, we made good progress. I overtook a few cars on the start and restarts, as well on track. We were steadily moving up the field and it was looking good for us. We weren’t the most competitive, but we were definitely moving up the field, which was positive. In the end, I am obviously disappointed not to finish. The boys worked so hard for us, it’s a shame not to finish it. COTA is the next race for us and we had a positive test. It’s a very dynamic course and I am looking forward to it.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “It was a very long day, but it was nice to finish on a high, if you can call it a high. On our last stint, the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet showed good pace and good fuel save, but the weekend just didn’t go where we wanted it to. I made a mistake halfway through the race and went into the runoff area, but we got back going fairly quickly and only lost one spot. The second half of the race was actually pretty decent, but to get a good result here you have to get to the front and stay at the front to have a good race.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM MSR w/ Arrow SPM Honda):
“As a whole, it’s been a really successful weekend. We had our best finishing position and our best qualifying position. Naturally, when you qualify well the hope is that it will transfer into the race. We can’t say it didn’t because we got our best race finish, but we definitely lacked some pace. The guys did a great job this weekend, we qualified seventh and finished 10th. We said prior to the season that we wanted to qualify in the top 12 and finish in the top ten, so by our own standards that was a great race.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda):
What an up and down race. We had a pretty poor start to the race. I bumped the wall after a restart and lost quite a bit of positions. We were all the way down in 17th position at one point. After that, we just had really great pace and were able to start making up positions when everyone was in the pits. An eighth-place finish isn’t too bad for the first race of the season. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing guys did a great job this weekend and I’m very happy with the No. 88 Latitude Vacation Club car. Can’t wait for next weekend.

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “It was the toughest-fought 13th we’ve had in a while. We had to overcome qualifying and it’s just so hard to pass. You have to be flying in order to overtake. We got some guys but not enough. Then we got the flat tire and that was the nail in the coffin. We had a bit too much understeer for (the Firestone red tire) alternate pace, but the big killer was qualifying and then losing ground to that tire.”

Sunday’s race is the first of a diverse and demanding 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule this season. Newgarden takes a 13-point lead over Dixon to the next event, the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 24. The race airs live at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

NTT IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 53, Dixon 40, Power 37, Rosenqvist 33, Rossi 31, Hinchcliffe 28, Pagenaud 26, Herta 24, Ferrucci 22, Harvey 20.

Story courtesy of IndyCar, photo by Phil Abbott of LAT

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