By David Morgan, Associate Editor
MADISON, Ill. – Josef Newgarden took a major step forward in the NTT IndyCar Series championship chase on Saturday night, winning the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway to pull within three points of the lead.
Entering the day at a 22-point deficit to fellow Team Penske driver Will Power, Newgarden used a rain delay that stretched two hours and nine minutes to his advantage, passing another Penske teammate in Scott McLaughlin with 35 laps to go to score his third-straight and fourth career win at WWTR.
“It was a great night,” Newgarden said. “Very big night. You got to win these races when you’re in position to do it. I wanted to close that one out really badly, really badly.
“I was elated. Elated that we were able to get back going and I had the opportunity on the restart. I’m thankful to my teammate. I thought Scott drove me with a tremendous amount of respect. He raced me hard, he wasn’t giving me anything, but just gave me a lot of respect like you would expect from a teammate. I think he goes above and beyond sometimes.
“Big night for us, PPG, Team Chevy. Can’t talk enough about Team Chevy. Had the engine to beat tonight, no doubt. We had great fuel mileage, reliability, power, all the things we always want. A big night for everybody on Team Penske. Very good for us in the championship fight.”
Rookie David Malukas put on a show over the course of the final green flag run, charging all the way up to second-place with a number of daring moves to claim his career-best IndyCar finish. Finishing less than half a second behind Newgarden, Malukas looked to be a prime candidate to give him a run for his money if he would have had more laps to work with.
The 20-year-old explained that after some encouragement from his spotter to try the high line, he was really able to make up some ground on the leaders.
“Pancho said, Try going wide in one and two, three and four,” Malukas said. “One and two didn’t work. They sweeped it. It felt really good.
“I just said, ‘You know, two to go, let’s try it.’
“It worked very well. I had that bit of clean air on the front right wing, I was able to get a run. Because the track was so much quicker with it being so much later, I hit the limiter in sixth gear. I couldn’t get a tow or suck on him. We had to go two-wide in one and two. Scary going wide there. Definitely getting some loose ends.
“Overall, so happy that we managed to go back out. We knew from practice yesterday the cooler the track got, the better our car ended up being compared to the others around us. We knew we had a good car going into it. Knew I had a chance.”
McLaughlin, who held the lead over Newgarden by pitting a lap sooner before the rain delay, came home in third-place to claim another podium finish – his third in the last four races.
The New Zealander was holding his own against Newgarden prior to the delay, but explained that he just didn’t have enough to hold off his teammate on the restart and Malukas down the stretch.
“I think our car was very good in the afternoon, late evening when the sun was still out,” McLaughlin said. “After the sun went away, lost my balance in that last stint. Didn’t have what Josef and David had. David was strong, coming at us really hard. Obviously me and Josef pulled away. I sort of knew I didn’t have much.
“Midway through the stint, started loose. Hard to get runs similar what I had in the daylight. Yeah, that second-to-last lap, I got a little bit loose off of three and four. Dave got a good run. I could see what he was doing. I couldn’t get out wide because of the confidence I had in the rear of the car.
“But he did a phenomenal job. He’s been doing an amazing job all year. First podium in INDYCAR is pretty hard to come by, especially on a short oval.”
Pato O’Ward capped off the night with a fourth-place result, followed by Takuma Sato rounding out the top-five finishers.
Pole sitter Will Power seemed to be unstoppable for much of the first half of the race, leading 128 laps before fading back and eventually bringing his No. 12 Chevrolet across the line in sixth-place to maintain his slim points lead over Newgarden.
Marcus Ericsson finished in seventh-place, with Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, and Graham Rahal all finishing the 260-lap race inside the top-10.
The race was slowed by just two caution periods – one on lap 145 for Jack Harvey making contact with the Turn 4 wall and the rain delay caution and eventual red flag that came at lap 214.
With the final oval of the season now in the books, the IndyCar Series now heads out to the West Coast to wrap up its 2022 campaign, with stops at Portland on September 4 and Laguna Seca on September 11 to decide who will be crowned champion.