By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California – It was the Alexander Rossi Show. While the new King of Long Beach put on a clinic on the competition for the second straight year, NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden continued hitting his stride on his bid for a second championship in three years, finishing second at the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The fourth-place starter showcased his speed over the other two Team Penske teammates of Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, and while the headlines will say the Tennessean lost by 20.2359 seconds, the largest since Al Unser, Jr.’s 23-second margin of victory over Scott Pruett in 1995, he’ll head into the month of May with a 28-point advantage over the new second-place points man of Rossi.
Unlike last season, when he had a 13-point lead, ironically over Rossi, heading into Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Newgarden has shown even stronger consistency as he’s yet to finish outside the top-four after four races. Newgarden stated the lack of bizarre cautions and even better strategy has resulted the No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet to be one of the true guys to beat as the season rolls on.
“We’ve had certainly a lot of good fortunate this year compared to last year. When haven’t had any yellows go away from us,” said Newgarden. “It seemed like every other race towards the end of season. We couldn’t get the strategy right, we couldn’t get the brakes when we needed them.
“This year it’s seems to be flowing pretty easily. We’re not getting odd yellows or mix-ups that put us back a couple of places. It’s been pretty solid. The car has been good. I think we’re slowly chipping away at things, trying to find out how to have a good street course car, how to have a good road course car. We’re going to find out where we’re at next month in the ovals, which is exciting.”
During the race, strategy of beating Rossi was hard to come by once Tim Cindric, team strategist for Team Penske, confirmed that Rossi was good on fuel on the Lap 27, emphasizing the Push to Pass needed to be used to get himself in a decent spot of catching Rossi later on, otherwise the likelihood of scoring his second win of the season was paramount.
While he would stay out for an addition two laps after Rossi pitted, he would stagger around second for the remainder of the race, wearing out his black primary Firestone tires in the progress.
Newgarden felt that the team did a solid job executing this weekend, but nothing could’ve been truly done to stop Rossi and we’ll head back to the drawing board on finding that extra step to be back in victory circle next month.
“I think the guys are doing a great job. Today was a nice race. We’ll take a P2,” said Newgarden. “Alex was too quick today I think. Him and Andretti (Autosport) did a great job, so congrats to them for the win. Just a little short, so we’ll try to find the performance after the next race.”
Similar to last year, the action in Southern California wasn’t compelling than most races out of the 17-race calendar, as Newgarden explained that coming up with a groundbreaking strategy, where it could put a driver from dealing with a huge deficit to being in front, isn’t easy because the ideal strategy is making two pit stops.
“This is honestly a straightforward race,” said Newgarden. “Maybe it needs a small adjustment. The tires are pretty friendly here. It’s a pretty simple two-stop and all that together, you’re not going to get as much action as you get at other tracks. Maybe there’s a little bit of room to think about it, but I think it’s just a straightforward race. There’s not a lot you can really do, strategy wise, to mix it up that’s effective. That’s probably why it produced what it did.”
Newgarden hopes that his eighth attempt of competing at the Indianapolis 500 is the year where he’ll have his name forever immortalized on the Borg-Warner Trophy as his best finish was third in 2016, but before the 200-lap contest, it’s the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indy road course. It’ll take place May 11. His luck at the road course has been a contrast as a pair of 11th-place finishes the last two years being his highest result in five starts.
The game plan on getting that elusive top-10 on the road course was, like racing at Long Beach, straightforward.
“Just have a solid race,” said Newgarden. “We probably should’ve finished second there last year. I made a mistake, so just don’t that and we’ll be fine.”