By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Pole sitter Josef Newgarden knew a shot at a third Astor Cup was a huge reach. He entered Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach third in points, 47 markers behind Alex Palou. After 85 laps, Newgarden finished second in both the race and championship, losing out to Palou by 38 points.
Newgarden led opening 18 laps until pit stops shuffled the running order, handing over the lead to Helio Castroneves. From there, cautions bit Newgarden which allowed eventual race winner Colton Herta, who led a race-high 47 of 85 laps, to control the competition.
During the closing laps, the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion was able to cut the gap on Herta, but it wasn’t enough to dethrone the California kid to score his third win of 2021.
While coming up a spot short, Newgarden felt his No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet was balanced throughout the race. Using Scott Dixon, who he had to fend off much of the afternoon, as an example on car performance.
“It was a pretty good day overall. I think Scott and me were pretty balanced. He was stronger at the beginning of the stint, I was maybe a touch better at the end,” said Newgarden.
“The yellows, inopportune yellow for us. Timed pretty well for Colton. He was fast, made use of it. He was on the right tire at the right time. Once he got the lead, even us closing up with the yellow at the end, he had position on us when we weren’t fuel saving any more. I was basically able to hold position.”
Fellow title contender Pato O’Ward had issues all throughout the opening 20 laps, forcing him to make repairs in the garage area at one point. This put Newgarden in a strong position to end up as this season’s vice champion. Not what he was looking for when the dust finally settled.
“Disappointed to not convert the pole to a win. Just coming up short in this race, coming up short in the championship is definitely disappointing,” Newgarden commentated. “I think for us overall, we got to be proud of our fight, be proud of the effort we put in all year with our partners in Hitachi and Team Chevy. We’ll come back next year.
“A lot of great competitors. Congrats to Alex, too. He did an amazing job all year with the championship, so he should be very proud with his group. We’ll congratulate them and come back next year and try to do one better.”
The 30-year-old ends the year with two wins, four poles and finished in the top-five eight times.