MADISON, Illinois – Josef Newgarden’s latest bold move led the Team Penske driver to win in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ thrilling return to Gateway Motorsports Park and extend his championship lead.
Newgarden completed a daring pass of teammate Simon Pagenaud on the 218th of 248 laps on the 1.25-mile oval and he went on to win the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline by 0.6850 of a second over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. The triumph – Newgarden’s third win in the past four races and his fourth victory this season – allowed the 26-year-old Tennessean to push his points lead to 31 over Dixon with two races remaining.
The race marked the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to the St. Louis region for the first time in 14 years. A packed main grandstand roared when Newgarden, in the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, slipped inside of Pagenaud, driving the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, heading into Turn 1. The cars touched mid-corner, forcing Pagenaud to slow as he moved up the track.
“Simon gave me a lane to work with,” said Newgarden, who used an impressive crossover move to pass teammate Will Power and win the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 30. “I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him.
“One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out,” added Newgarden, chasing his first series championship in his sixth season and first with Team Penske. “I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately, (it) worked out well for us on the (No.) 2 car side.”
Pagenaud’s loss of momentum on the decisive pass opened the door for Dixon, in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda, to get past for second place. Pagenaud, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was understandably upset after finishing in third place.
“I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass,” Pagenaud said. “But we’re not on a road course. There, we are going 40-50 mph (slower). Here, we’re doing 190 (mph). It’s completely different story.
“Obviously, I wanted to win. We all want to win. Sometimes, you know, it is what it is.”
Newgarden led 170 laps in collecting his seventh career win, delivering Team Penske its fifth straight victory and 10th this season. It was also the 196th Indy car win for the renowned team.
Dixon felt fortunate to finish second, considering he started seventh and Team Penske had secured the first four spots in qualifying.
“I’ll be honest, we didn’t expect to finish on the podium,” said Dixon, the four-time series champion. “But I think we saw in the warmup (Friday night practice) that the gap had closed significantly with the trim level that we were able to achieve. I think mechanically our car was very good.
“Then also we had some misfortunes (for other drivers) that played in to help us out, especially with Simon and Josef in Turn 1.”
Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske three of the top four finishers when he placed fourth in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet. Castroneves led 52 laps to become the fourth driver in Indy car history to surpass 6,000 laps led in a career.
Conor Daly finished fifth in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet, the AJ Foyt Racing driver’s best finish in his first season with the team and his best showing since placing fourth last year at Watkins Glen.
The start of the race was slowed by a pair of incidents. Tony Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing spun in Turn 2 on the pace lap and backed his No. 10 NTT Data Honda into the SAFER Barrier. Kanaan went three laps down while the car was repaired and eventually finished 16th.
When the green flag did wave, pole sitter Power spun in nearly the same place as Kanaan and hit the wall in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet on Lap 6. The cars of Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato touched as they slowed to avoid Power, sending both into the wall as well. None of the drivers was injured but their races were over before the night had barely begun.
“It wasn’t a fun ride,” Power said. “Josef went around the outside (to pass for the lead) and (I) got some of his dirty air and just lost it. Unfortunate. Very frustrating, unbelievably frustrating. … It was just slippery, super slippery.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series standings show Newgarden in the lead with 547 points, Dixon second with 516, Castroneves third at 505, Pagenaud fourth at 504 and Power fifth with 464. Graham Rahal (436 points), Alexander Rossi (422) and Sato (410) remain mathematically alive for the championship as well.
By finishing 13th tonight, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones clinched Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for the season.
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action with the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, from the road course at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York. The race airs live at 1 p.m. ET Sept. 3 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
The season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17 at Sonoma Raceway in California, is worth double the normal race points.