Photo: Brandon K. Carter/ASP, Inc.

Newgarden Dominates in St. Pete to Capture Victory in Season Opener

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Josef Newgarden Show was in full effect Sunday in St. Petersburg.

Rolling off from pole position, once the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet ascended to the lead, there was no stopping him, leading all but eight laps on the day to score his third win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by an astounding 7.912 seconds over Pato O’Ward and Arrow McLaren.

Newgarden’s victory continues the steamroll that Team Penske has been on as of late, winning the 2023 Indianapolis 500, the NASCAR Cup Series championship with Ryan Blaney, and the 2024 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Now Newgarden has given his team owner, “The Captain” Roger Penske, a great start to the 2024 IndyCar campaign.

“I don’t want to say it felt easy,” Newgarden said of his dominant Sunday. “It felt comfortable today. Really, really comfortable. I had a lot of fun.

“I sort of told myself before going into the race, I sort of want to let it be, not overstep, and then early on in the race, I’m like, I’m going. I’m not here to wait around. We’re going to win this race.”

“Just really thankful to the team for the effort they’ve put in all year,” Newgarden added. “I should say the entire off-season to get to this point. It’s been a big process for us to try and come back and be better in areas that we were weak last year.

“I touched on it earlier in the weekend, but Chevrolet has done a tremendous job for us. They’re a huge part of the equation. They’re a big lift for us coming into this weekend, and I think on the team side, we’ve also lifted our game and cleaned up a lot of areas where we were maybe not at the level we needed to be.

“It all just came together today. Great start of the year. Obviously we had strength because looking at my teammates, we’re sitting first, third and fourth. I think that’s really encouraging for the rest of the season. It doesn’t tell the whole picture, but I think it’s encouraging.”

For O’Ward, it’s another runner-up finish in St. Pete, but decidedly a different mood compared to this time a year ago when he lost this race in heartbreaking fashion.

“Really strong day for us today,” said O’Ward. “I think it’s a very solid foundation to what is going to be a very tight, very competitive rest of the year. I think the Penskes were just too strong for us today. I think we were all kind of playing the fuel game a little bit, and got to give it to everybody at Chevrolet, my guys over at Arrow McLaren.

“We got down to work in the off-season and we’ve made some gains and really cool to see the top 4 was all Chevrolet. I’m pretty pleased to see that.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin finished in third to round out the podium, with the third Team Penske driver in Will Power coming home in fourth. If not for O’Ward coming home in second, it would have been a clean sweep for Team Penske up front.

“Really stoked,” McLaughlin said of his run. “For us to start ninth and move our way through to third, for us, it’s a win in some ways. I tried to get Pato there, but I had Will sort of breathing down my neck, and it was sort of a championship game in some ways thinking of the points in some ways. You just take what you can get. It’s so tight this year in INDYCAR, so you just need to get what you can and get out of here.

“Really proud of the Dex Imaging Chevy, particularly Team Chevy. They’ve come with some goods this year and really worked with us over the off-season to be strong and to get four in the top 5 is huge, and yeah, pumped.”

Colton Herta was the top Honda driver in fifth, followed by defending series champion Alex Palou, Felix Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, and Rinus VeeKay to complete the top-10 finishers.

The race was slowed three times for caution, twice for Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Marcus Armstrong and Linus Lundqvist having issues in Turn 10 and another for Sting Ray Robb going off-course in Turn 1 after brake failure on his machine.

Marcus Ericsson and Romain Grosjean retired early due to mechanical issues.

Next up for the NTT IndyCar Series will be the non-points $1 Million All-Star Challenge at Thermal Club in Palm Springs on March 24 before a nearly month long wait until the second points race of the season in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Results

1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
2. (3) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 100, Running
3. (9) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
4. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
5. (4) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
6. (13) Alex Palou, Honda, 100, Running
7. (2) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 100, Running
8. (15) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 100, Running
9. (11) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
10. (7) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
11. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 100, Running
12. (18) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 100, Running
13. (16) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 100, Running
14. (23) Kyffin Simpson, Honda, 100, Running
15. (26) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 100, Running
16. (22) Graham Rahal, Honda, 100, Running
17. (17) Tom Blomqvist, Honda, 100, Running
18. (20) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 100, Running
19. (27) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
20. (12) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 100, Running
21. (21) Christian Rasmussen, Chevrolet, 99, Running
22. (25) Colin Braun, Honda, 99, Running
23. (19) Linus Lundqvist, Honda, 97, Running
24. (5) Romain Grosjean, Chevrolet, 82, Mechanical
25. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 52, Mechanical
26. (24) Sting Ray Robb, Chevrolet, 33, Off course
27. (10) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 25, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 96.867 mph
Time of Race: 1:51:29.5954
Margin of victory: 7.9121 seconds
Cautions: 3 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Newgarden, Josef 1 – 28
Lundgaard, Christian 29 – 35
Newgarden, Josef 36 – 65
Herta, Colton 66
Newgarden, Josef 67 – 100

Newgarden 54, O’Ward 40, McLaughlin 35, Power 32, Herta 31, Palou 28, Rosenqvist 26, Rossi 24, Dixon 22, VeeKay 20, Ferrucci 19, Kirkwood 18, Ilott 17, Simpson 16, Fittipaldi 15, Rahal 14, Blomqvist 13, Canapino 12, Lundgaard 11, Harvey 11, Rasmussen 9, Braun 8, Lundqvist 7, Grosjean 6, Ericsson 5, Armstrong 5, Robb 5

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.