Taking advantage of a fast Honda and a race-record number of cautions, Josef Newgarden put himself in position to score an upset victory in Sao Paulo this afternoon before dropping back to fifth place at the finish on worn tires.
“I thought we had a really strong race and a top-five is really good going into Indy,” he said. “Given where we started, that’s exactly what we wanted to do, score solid points and get some momentum going into the 500. I think we’ve absolutely done that.”
The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver didn’t qualify on Saturday because of an engine change and had to start 25th at the rear of the field. But Newgarden and SFHR played the strategy game perfectly, and the young American was able to climb to second on the final restart of the day at Lap 60. That set up a fight for the lead between himself and Takuma Sato, who gave no quarter to Newgarden whenever he attempted to take the lead from him.
Newgarden and Sato’s battle enabled eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe to reel them in. With three laps remaining, the Canadian took back second from Newgarden, who still mustered an ultimately vain three-wide attempt in Turn 11 with Hinchcliffe and Sato before his fading Firestones caught up with him.
But while Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia managed to pass him on the final lap, Newgarden’s fifth is the best result of his young IndyCar career. Still, as he now prepares for the Indianapolis 500, he felt like he could’ve done even better on Sunday.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment,” he said. “I think we had a better car than fifth. You have to take what you can sometimes. We’re really pleased at all of the hard work that gets put in from everyone here. It’s good to get representative results. We’ll try to take that momentum and do well at the ‘500’.”
Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.