By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
MADISON, Illinois — He led when the race went green and an aggressive move later made all the difference as Josef Newgarden earned his third Verizon IndyCar Series victory in the last four races as he took the checkered flag in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday night.
The race started under yellow as Tony Kanaan spun on the pace lap in Turn 2 from his 17th starting position. When the green flag came out, Newgarden took the lead as Will Power lost control and hit the wall. Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato were also collected as Carpenter’s car rode up on top of Power’s car.
The race restarted on Lap 18 with Newgarden in the lead over Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. The biggest positive mover early on was Ryan Hunter-Reay, starting 14th and running fifth by Lap 35.
By Lap 50 Newgarden had a solid lead over Castroneves, Pagenaud, Dixon and Hunter-Reay as Carlos Munoz started the first cycle of green flag pit stops on Lap 54. His AJ Foyt Racing Teammate Conor Daly came in soon after as did Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe. Newgarden made his pit stop from the lead on Lap 61 and maintained the lead over Castroneves once everybody made their pit stops.
During the cycle of pit stops Sebastien Bourdais led his first laps since winning the season opening race at St. Petersburg. After the cycle of pit stops the big gainer was Alexander Rossi as he jumped up to fifth place ahead of Hunter-Reay. The biggest loser was Munoz who went from sixth to 12th.
The next yellow would come out on Lap 102 as Ed Carpenter Racing’s further participation in the race would cease as JR Hildebrand would hit the wall in Turn 4 after running in tenth position.
Castroneves would beat Newgarden off of pit road ahead of Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Hinchcliffe while Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Daly and Ed Jones rounded out the top ten.
The race restarted on Lap 113 without any major moves for position up front but Tony KAnaan made a three wide move to get around two other cars in front of him.
At halfway, Castroneves led Newgarden, Pagenaud, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Rossi, Rahal, Daly, Hunter-Reay and Jones.
The next round of pit stops started with Castroneves, Hunter-Reay and Rossi pitting on Lap 158 and it would be a lengthy stop for Castroneves because he stalled the engine. After that round of stops, Newgarden reassumed the lead over Pagenaud, Dixon, Castroneves and Hinchcliffe.
The yellow flag would appear again on Lap 166 as Max Chilton spun his No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda into the Turn 4 wall, coming to a stop against the inside retaining wall in the exit of the corner.
The green flag came out on Lap 175 as Pagenaud attempted to make a move on Newgarden for the lead but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile Castroneves got around Dixon shortly thereafter to make it a Penske 1-2-3 show up front.
The biggest battle on track late in the going was between Daly and Charlie Kimball. Kimball made an aggressive move to defend against Daly that was investigated but no further action was taken by race control.
The next yellow would appear on Lap 203 as Hunter-Reay would brush the wall coming out of Turn 2. The last round of pit stops would happen under caution as Pagenaud would beat out Newgarden, Dixon, Castronves, Rossi, Rahal, Hinchcliffe, Daly, Kimball and Munoz out of the pits but Rahal had a penalty for a fuel probe violation moving the rest of the field up a spot.
The green flag came out on Lap 213 with Pagenaud keeping ahead of Newgarden but Daly moved up to fifth place.
Newgarden got around Pagenaud on Lap 217 with a daring move to the inside heading to Turn 1 as the two combatants had light contact that allowed Dixon to move up into second place ahead of the defending series champion.
That aggressive move paid dividends to Newgarden as he was able to hold off Dixon for his third win in the last four races. Pagenaud was third ahead of Castroneves and Daly.
“Simon gave me a lane to work with,” said Newgarden. “I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him. One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out.
“I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up.
“Fortunately worked out well for us on the 2 car side. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”
However, Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate wasn’t thrilled with how the pass was orchestrated.
“Absolutely,” said Pagenaud, when asked if he loses some trust in Newgarden after the move.
“And respect, too. He doesn’t have respect for me. I’ve never seen Scott do that to his teammates in his career, whole career. I respect the hell out of this guy here. Four-time champ. You know you can race him. He’s a perfect example. You know you can race each other. Especially on an oval it’s quite dangerous if you have an accident.”
Although the win is his third in his last four starts and he holds a 31 point lead on Dixon in the championship standings, Newgarden is far from comfortable, especially with double-points still on the table for the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
“I don’t know if it’s firm,” said Newgarden. “It’s never firm with Sonoma, with the amount of points you got there. It’s going to be difficult. I think we’re — regardless of how Watkins Glen goes, I think it’s going to come down to Sonoma and who does the best job there. It’s just the way this championship works with the way the format is right now.
“But we certainly have a good position, I would say for us. We feel good about our position. You know, you really can’t think about it. I think we have a good lead. That’s always better in my opinion than chasing.
“We got to make sure we look after everything in Watkins Glen, then we really got to prioritize Sonoma and have a phenomenal race there.”
Bommarito Automotive Group: Unofficial Results