Relief, gratitude define the day where Newgarden finally gets first win (VIDEO)

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – As Josef Newgarden took the lead for the final time in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, on Lap 70 of the 90-lap race, the usually ice cool, steely, yet suave 24-year-old American rising star entered a new thought process.

Just get this freaking thing over with.

Newgarden has been in win or podium position several times in his three-plus years in the Verizon IndyCar Series previously, only to have things slip away.

The two most notable losses occurred last year at Long Beach and Mid-Ohio; the former race, Ryan Hunter-Reay made an overambitious passing attempt into a corner where passing is often frowned upon that took them both out. At Mid-Ohio, a glitch on his final pit stop cost him and his team what appeared a sure victory.

On Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in his No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet, he was determined not to let it happen again.

“I’m honestly just happy it’s over with. I feel like we’ve been working forever for that,” Newgarden said after scoring his first win in his 55th career start.

“I’m so relieved that it’s over with. I really wanted that race to end. Right from the middle of it, it was so stressful for me. Normally I’m pretty cool. I felt cool out there, but it was just very stressful to run those laps, try to control that.

“We’ve been there before, things have gone wrong. Today nothing went wrong.”

Mild thoughts of past near misses entered Newgarden’s mind, but it wasn’t really something on the forefront as it was completing those last 20 laps.

“You know, I did think about that during the race. I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “If something broke or I messed up and threw the car off, maybe there were some crazy circumstances or the strategy didn’t work out. Whatever it may be, if it didn’t happen today, I really wasn’t worried about it.”

What today was, was the culmination of a years-long journey to victory lane in the Verizon IndyCar Series as one of the series’ brightest, young American talents.

Newgarden got his start fairly late in racing in his mid-teen years, and grew up racing go-karts on a regular basis in Newcastle, Ind.

His career journey took him to GP3, followed by a return to America in Indy Lights in 2011. There, he won multiple races en route to the title (his most recent win at Kentucky 2011), and his opportunity that arose with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing prior to 2012.

He’s been close but no cigar on several occasions, as mentioned above. His best finishes of second occurred at Baltimore 2013 and Iowa last year.

Among the people he could thank were his pit crew, led by race strategist Andy O’Gara and engineer Jeremy Milless. Newgarden could have ran longer on fuel in the final stint, but didn’t really want to push it, especially with noted fuel saver Scott Dixon not far behind him.

“I’m not going to lie. I got really nervous on that last stint,” Newgarden said. “I wasn’t nervous in the team at all, not a bit. I felt super confident in our group, what we were doing.

“But they kept telling me to save more fuel. I mean, it was like halfway through the stint, and it was, ‘Dude, we’re good.’ We’re totally clear to go to the end. Then they were like, Just to be safe, let’s drop that fuel number down a little bit more. Then they said that like two more times.

“I went on the radio, and I was like, Okay, so are we good or are we just being safe? I’m pretty sure we were being safe because I understood we were very clear to go. We were confident in the fuel numbers we were hitting.”

Beyond the crew, Newgarden made sure to thank everyone who has helped him to this journey, from his parents and family members, to his friends, and to his supporters. His girlfriend, Ashley Welch, also made a rare race appearance at a track only a few hours from Newgarden’s Hendersonville, Tenn. hometown.

“For us, I’m so pleased for anyone and everyone that helped me get to this point, especially my parents (Joey and Tina),” he said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into any young kid’s life. When you have good parents that really raise you well, want the best for you as a young kid, they put that time and effort in, there’s a lot that goes in from that side.

“I was one of the lucky ones where I got a call from Wink Hartman, Sarah Fisher, Andy O’Gara, and they gave me an opportunity to be a professional driver. Then they kept me in a seat for all these years, continuing this year with Ed Carpenter, everyone involved in Ed Carpenter Racing.

“I’ve been blessed to have an opportunity to be a driver. I mean, not a lot of kids nowadays that want to be professional racecar drivers, they don’t get that opportunity.

“There’s a lot of people to thank that go into a day like this.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.