BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – In a thrilling 90-lap Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama that was a mix of pace, persistence, patience and pit strategy, the Verizon IndyCar Series has a first-time race winner, and a first-time champagne sipper.
His name is Josef Newgarden.
The driver of the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet made it home on the final 27-lap stint en route to the victory, holding off fellow American Graham Rahal, who turned in arguably the drive of his career en route to second in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda.
Scott Dixon, the Long Beach winner, finished third in the No. 9 Coca-Cola Chevrolet.
While Newgarden led a race-high 46 laps – 25 more than his previous career total of 21 entering the day – he didn’t have it easy as the stats would indicate, as two separate strategies ruled the roost.
Polesitter Helio Castroneves led the opening 18 laps but Newgarden was an early charger, moving up to third from fifth on the start and second by end of the first lap with a pass on Will Power at Turn 16.
Power’s race nearly came unglued when following a pit stop, he collided with Takuma Sato, who had nowhere to go exiting Turn 2. Sato spun and Power cascaded through the gravel, later earning a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
Rahal though was the driver to watch, as an alternate strategy from his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing put him in a position to advance throughout the race. He ran a longer second stint (from Laps 19 to 48) before pitting earlier for his final stop to push harder towards the finish.
Newgarden and Castroneves were 1-2 with Rahal up to third by Lap 22. He inherited the lead by Lap 35 as most of the leaders, led by Newgarden and Castroneves, pitted.
Rahal stopped again on Lap 48, just past the halfway mark, which left his final stop for Lap 70. That allowed him to push harder on both stints, while others who pitted between Laps 62 and 64 would theoretically have to save more fuel throughout the run to the finish.
Newgarden made his last of three stops (Laps 19, 35, 63) and came out in second, behind Rahal, who was due to stop.
Rahal was sixth after his final stop but quickly made work of Power and Hunter-Reay, who made it back into contention past the halfway mark, before hunting down Dixon and passing him out of Turn 9 on the final lap.
It wasn’t enough to catch Newgarden, who won by 2.2061 seconds to complete the first American 1-2 in IndyCar since last year at Iowa Speedway. There, Hunter-Reay beat Newgarden on the sub-one-mile oval.
The win is the first for the combined CFH Racing but the sixth for the team overall, including the five prior wins by either Ed Carpenter Racing or Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing between 2011 and 2014.
Power and Hunter-Reay ended fourth and fifth. Carlos Munoz was a season-best sixth for Andretti Autosport.
Neither Tony Kanaan nor Castroneves – who ran strongly at various points during the race – were able to parlay the combination into a successful result. Kanaan ended 13th, Castroneves 15th on the day.
Despite two cautions for nine laps, there were no major incidents and all 23 drivers finished. Several drivers made great moves throughout the race.
But at the end of it all, Newgarden emerged as a first-time winner heading into the Month of May.
The series isn’t racing next weekend, but will have its oval aero kit test on Sunday, May 3, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
3. (4) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 90, Running
4. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (18) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
6. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 90, Running
7. (10) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
8. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 90, Running
9. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
10. (13) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running
11. (9) Luca Filippi, Chevrolet, 90, Running
12. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 90, Running
13. (6) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 90, Running
14. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 90, Running
15. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
16. (17) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 90, Running
17. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
18. (12) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 90, Running
19. (16) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 90, Running
20. (21) Rodolfo Gonzalez, Honda, 90, Running
21. (19) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 90, Running
22. (14) James Jakes, Honda, 89, Running
23. (23) Francesco Dracone, Honda, 89, Running
Winners average speed: 107.176
Time of Race: 01:55:53.0630
Margin of victory: 2.2061 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 10
Castroneves 1 – 18
Pagenaud 19 – 21
Newgarden 22 – 34
Rahal 35 – 46
Bourdais 48 – 49
Newgarden 51 – 62
Dixon 63 – 64
Rahal 65 – 69
Newgarden 70 – 90
Point Standings: Montoya 136, Castroneves 133, Dixon 123, Newgarden 119, Power 112, Hinchcliffe 110, Kanaan 110, Rahal 103, Pagenaud 96, Bourdais 91