Josef Newgarden made it three straight victories at World Wide Technology Raceway in Saturday night’s NTT IndyCar Series race, but that was just the beginning of the story.
The fans braved a two-hour red flag after rain during the race, setting up a 42-lap sprint to the finish when the track was dry, and their patience was rewarded with some thrilling final laps that almost ended with Dale Coyne Racing rookie David Malukas taking his first win of the race. career.
Newgarden was second to Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin on the restart, but grabbed the lead just off the green with a great turn two run. Malukas was fifth at that point and reaped the rewards of Coyne’s aggressive strategy with the team putting both their cars in the mix at the finish and newer rubber than the cars around him thanks to him stopping just before the rain started. He fended off early race leader Will Power to move up to fourth and immediately began to reel in Pat O’Ward, eventually reclaiming third place from the Mexican on lap 243.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 21, 2022
He had 17 laps to do with the two Penske cars ahead, and while he was able to close in on McLaughlin, he couldn’t make a move until the very last lap, when he took the high line through Turn 2 and raced into second place. and was right on Newgarden’s gearbox as they passed the checkers.
“We ended up going around O’Ward and we went around the car that got tilted and then I saw the cars ahead and it was two Penskes and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s two Penskes,'” he said. “Maybe I could have gotten Josef if I had tried the high line earlier, but it was like a win for me, a win for the team.”
McLaughlin, who controlled the middle of the race and would have taken his first victory at the oval had the weather not improved, was the first to praise Malukas’ move.
“It’s racing,” he said. “Dave’s move on the last lap… credit to him. He’s a phenomenal young guy and he’s going to go far. He was closing in and I got a little loose, so I got a bad run in turns 3 and 4, so I took the inside line, he took the outside line, and there was still grip. Hell of a move. But good times for us.”
For Newgarden, the night marked his fifth win of the season – breaking his previous record of four – and the prospect of going into Portland just three points behind Power in the championship hunt.
“Scott took me super fair at the end there and we had a good fight,” Newgarden said. “It’s a big night for everyone at Team Penske. We just needed a good (re)start. I knew Scott was going to be good and he had a good car, so I just tried to work in the high lane. You have to give him credit, he could have easily won tonight.”
So could several other people. Going into the race, everyone knew there was going to be rain, but opinions – and in turn, strategies – were divided on exactly when. And when the first drops of rain brought out the red flag on lap 218 of 260, it was the teams of Newgarden and McLaughlin who appreciated it best. On lap 148, the pair took advantage of the evening’s first caution to pit under yellow, but Power stayed out.
“I thought the yellow would help us, but the team didn’t tell me what number we would have to hit if we didn’t pit,” Power said. “If I knew that number, I would definitely go into boxing.”
The value of being away from home was obvious: new tires and full equipment save fuel every time. Power lost the lead to a spectacular move by Pat O’Ward on the restart, but the real threat was a few places behind, where Newgarden broke through from fourth like he was playing a video game in cheat mode and began to build a gap that exploded to 6.0 with after 10 rounds. McLaughlin did a similar thing and the pair quickly chased the rest of the pack. At this point, Newgarden still had a 6.0 second lead over McLaughlin (and 12 seconds behind O’Ward), but McLaughlin steadily reeled him in for the rest of the period. It paid off when it was time for the next stop and Newgarden dived into the pits to find RLL rookie Christian Lundgaard there. There’s no telling how much the Dane could have held him back, but McLaughlin was 1.0s quicker on his lap and when he came back he grabbed the lead, which he held until Newgarden took him out after a rain delay.
O’Ward settled for fourth, ahead of Takuma Sato, who moved into first after a scrap with Power shortly after the restart. Ganassi continued to follow the same strategy of all three title contenders until a quick stop for new tires just before the restart as they were the last of the 10 drivers on the lead lap with nothing to lose and the reward: they all finished in the group, albeit a little further back than they had hoped, with Marcus Eriksson finishing seventh ahead of Scott Dixon and Alex Palau. Graeme Rahal moved up from 16th on the grid to complete the top 10.
Fears that much of the rubber work on the second lane for the race had been washed away by a brief but enthusiastic shower earlier in the day proved unfounded and the high line was in place throughout the race. Romain Grosjean relied heavily on this in the opening laps as he worked to overcome a nine-place grid penalty that dropped him to last at the start, and it was a similar story for Felix Rosenqvist, who started from the back after spinning in qualifying. but moved up 13 places in the first seven laps. However, running high comes with risks, as Jack Harvey realized when he came up the track to pass Ed Carpenter, ran off the road and hit the wall so hard that he broke his toe, sending him back to the pits for repairs and issuing the first caution of the day.
Fortunately, he was able to rejoin, but it was a different story for Rinus Vikay, whose car suffered an electrical problem that, among other things, destroyed his dashboard, leaving him second-guessing his speed as he pitted. He guessed wrong, receiving a speeding ticket and was later parked for the evening when the team determined the problem was terminal. Mechanical failure also slowed the progress of Ed Carpenter Racing team-mate Conor Daly, while Callum Ilott’s progress was halted when he clipped Juncos crew member Hollinger in the pits and received a 30-second stop-and-hold penalty. The other big thunder was reserved for Alexander Rossi, whose No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda ran out of fuel as it approached the pit box and then spent a couple of minutes ignoring the team’s attempts to restart it.
The IndyCar Series next heads to Portland International Raceway on September 4th at 3pm ET on NBC.