By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
LEXINGTON, Ohio — In a performance that redeemed him for 2014, Josef Newgarden pulled off a dominant drive to win Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and with it, picked up the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead.
It was a clean start as polesitter Will Power held off teammate Newgarden as the entire field got through the first lap without incident. The largest gainer in the field in the opening few laps was Marco Andretti, up four positions in the first three laps from 14th to 10th.
Carlos Munoz pitted first on Lap 6 as the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda was in the pits for 9.6 seconds, putting him on an alternate strategy.
Max Chilton came in soon after, placing him on a similar strategy to Munoz with both drivers gambling on a caution flag to put them near the front.
Esteban Gutierrez then came in for a lengthy stop on Lap 8 that put him a lap down while teammate Ed Jones followed into the pits on Lap 9 from 15th place.
Next in the early pit stoppers was Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi while Newgarden was able to snatch the lead from Power heading into Turn 4 on Lap 13 with a dicey move.
That move proved to be the winning move of the race.
“I felt like we were a little stronger at the start,” Newgarden said. “Will was good, and we had a decent gap to Takuma (Sato), I think. We were holding fairly steady. I think Will was struggling a little more than me, and I just didn’t want to wait behind him.
“We were either going to pass him on track in a straight-up pass or pass him on the pit cycle, that was our plan. I didn’t want to wait until the pits. I felt like I had an opportunity, so I just tried to time something and pull a move on him.
“He gave me a lot of racing room like a great teammate. I think he knew we were a little bit quicker. So he gave me good room, and once we got past him, I thought we were really fast.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi had a moment heading into Turn 4 that cost Hunter-Reay a few spots after spinning.
After the first round of pit stops ended, Newgarden was back up front with Power second, Rahal third, Pagenaud fourth and Rossi up four spots into fifth. The biggest loser of the front runners was Takuma Sato who ended up eighth.
As the race hit the one third mark, Rahal began to close in on Power for second place while Munoz started the second round of pit stops on Lap 26.
The top five remained unchanged until the next round of pit stops as Newgarden led Power, Rahal, Pagenaud and Rossi. What was so unusual was that Scott Dixon was sixth and was almost 13 seconds behind Rossi in fifth.
Rossi was the first of the top five to pit in the second sequence of stops on Lap 39 and came out on track behind Andretti who had yet to stop. Newgarden was in next time by for new Firestone red (alternate) tires.
Power and Pagenaud pitted on Lap 41 putting on while Rahal pitted for new primary (black) tires but a problem with the right rear slightly delayed his stop. Rossi gained fourth place over Pagenaud in the sequence of stops as he took on a set of red tires.
The biggest loser in the second round of stops was Dixon as he fell to ninth place after running in sixth during that second stint of the race.
Rossi was at an advantage over Rahal with the red sidewall tires at this point, setting the race’s fastest lap to that point. Rahal was also stuck behind Carlos Munoz who was running in 19th at the time. Rahal vented his frustration on the front straight a couple of times but was unable to get around the AJ Foyt Racing machine.
Pagenaud was able to get around Rossi on Lap 56 for fourth place as Rahal finally got around Munoz the next time by.
Chilton, Jones and Gutierrez started the third round of pit stops which was disastrous for Jones as an issue with the right rear led to him having a 38 second stop.
Newgarden stopped on Lap 64 after turning his best lap of the race on Lap 63. Jones then stopped on track coming into the back half of the course and a full course yellow was called on Lap 67.
Under caution, the order was Newgarden, Power, Rahal, Pagenaud, Castroneves, Rossi James Hinchcliffe, Sato, Hunter-Reay and Dixon in the top 10. Kanaan, Hildebrand, Gutierrez, Pigot and Munoz stopped under caution once the pits were open and Pigot got a rear wing change.
The race restarted on Lap 71 as Power was unable to get around Gutierrez with Rahal immediately behind Power. Gutierrez stayed ahead next time by while Dixon was able to get around Andretti for tenth.
Meanwhile, Sato got around Rossi for fifth and was looking hard at getting near Pagenaud for fourth. Power held off a challenge from Rahal on Lap 74 as both were on the push to pass boost.
Gutierrez pitted for fuel soon after as the order remained unchanged as Newgarden continued to pull away from the top four. Meanwhile, Sato turned his fastest lap of the race on Lap 78 and then again on Lap 79.
Probably the biggest surprise based on past results was the performance of Conor Daly. Daly started 11th and was able to get into the top 10 by getting around Hinchcliffe on Lap 84.
But nothing could stop Newgarden as he won over Power, Rahal, Pagenaud and Sato rounding out the top five.
For Newgarden, this was yet another dominant victory, and this time at a track he hasn’t been successful at.
“I feel like no one can take anything away from this win,” Newgarden said.
“With this team on the 2 car side, I feel like we really did a great job today. There was no luck involved in that. We went out and won the race. So no one can take anything away from those guys and the 2 car.
“They know they can win a race straight up, no problem, and they have the pace and the ability to do it. I’ve got all the faith in the world in that team. They know how to win championships and races. I feel like I’m with the best group out there, and I feel good about being able to have a day like this with them. It makes everyone feel good about what we’re doing.”