INDYCAR: Alexander Rossi dominates, holds off Will Power to win Long Beach GP

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Alexander Rossi and his NAPA Honda dominated from start to finish to win Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Starting from the pole, Rossi led 71 of the 85 laps to earn his first win of 2018 and the third of his career, behind the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and Watkins Glen last season.

“I can’t really put into words how good the car was all weekend,” Rossi told NBCSN. “I think we proved that and I’m just so glad we were able to capitalize on that and nothing crazy happened.

“When the car’s that good, I don’t have to work so hard.”

Rossi, who won in his home state (he’s a native of Auburn, California, near Sacramento), finished with an average speed of 88.622 mph, taking the checkered flag with a 1.2413 second margin over runner-up Will Power.

“This is kind of like our second home race (Sonoma is his first home track),” Rossi said. “We had a lot of people here. It was really cool to be able to get them the result.

“They didn’t get to see me race in Europe, so the fact they’re here and we were able to get redemption on last year (engine failure relegated him to a 19th-place finish at Long Beach) is really special. I’m really happy.”

Rossi also takes a 22-point lead atop the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with his win.

Power gave the strongest challenge of any driver in the race to Rossi, using push-to-pass several times in the last 10 laps, but could not get enough to pass Rossi.

“They were definitely very good,” Power said. “That was absolutely driving as hard as I could go, and I’m sure that was as hard as (Rossi) could go, too.”

Second-year IndyCar driver Ed Jones of Chip Ganassi Racing finished third, followed by Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate, Zack Veach and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal.

It was Jones’ second podium in his brief IndyCar career. He finished third in last year’s Indianapolis 500.

“It’s great to be back up on the podium,” Jones told NBCSN. “Hopefully, this is the start of many.

“Long Beach has been good to me. I won here in Indy Lights, was sixth in IndyCar last year and third today. It’s been a good track for me and hopefully next year it’ll be a win for me.”

Veach was the highest-finishing rookie with his best IndyCar finish, including his first top-five and top-10.

“I’m just so thankful, this feels like a win,” Veach told NBCSN. “Our qualifying pace hasn’t been what we want it to be. It’s just putting that lap together is so tough in these things. I feel like once we got into the race, things started to flow our way.

“To be fourth in my fifth ever IndyCar race; hopefully we can get on the podium at Barber (next race, April 22) and keep going up from there.”

Sixth through 10th were Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti, Phoenix winner and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Racing, defending Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Charlie Kimball of Carlin Racing.

 

IN-RACE NOTES:

* On the first lap, heading into Turn 1, Graham Rahal got into the rear of Simon Pagenaud, appearing to break the rear suspension and ending his day. Rahal was given a drive-through penalty for the incident.

“It seemed like, felt like he never broke,” Pagenaud told NBCSN about Rahal. “It’s a real shame. It could be very costly in the championship.

“I don’t know what else we could have done. It’s on to the next one. I had a car to win the race. I don’t think anything is going to solve my pain, so it is what it is.”

Rahal tweeted an apology to Pagenaud after the race:

* Ryan Hunter-Reay also got some residual damage after his right front wing clipped the left rear tire of Scott Dixon when the field bunched together to avoid Pagenaud and Rahal. Hunter-Reay came back into the pits on the following lap to change the front wing.

Later, on Lap 47, Hunter-Reay suffered a flat left rear tie after touching tires with Jordan King. He was forced to pull aside and let the field go past as he limped his way to pit road.

* Robert Wickens, who came close to wins in the first two races, experienced gearbox problems after 25 laps, causing him to pit twice to make repairs, ending his hopes of potentially getting a win today.

* Kyle Kaiser added to his weekend woes when he stopped in Turn 8 on Lap 42. He actually was two laps down at the time of the incident.

* On Lap 60, rookie Zachary Claman De Melo wrecked, bringing out the caution.

* With about 22 laps to go, rookie Jordan King – who was on track for a potential top-five finish – had to pit to bleed the brakes on his car because he was having stopping issues.

* Scott Dixon had worked his way up to second place, but was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for stopping on pit road for service before he was allowed to do so under De Melo’s caution.

* On Lap 71, Sebastien Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, King and Wickens were involved in the fourth caution of the race. King made a rookie mistake by trying to squeeze past Bourdais on the inside of the hairpin turn and spun him, collecting Hunter-Reay and Wickens in the process. Everyone was able to get going except Wickens, who couldn’t get his car restarted.

* With 8 laps to go, Hunter-Reay’s rough weekend continued as he hit the wall, breaking a wing and damaging his suspension.

PRE-RACE NOTES:

* Coming into Sunday’s race, there had been different winners in the last six races at Long Beach.

* Scott Pruett, who retired from racing after this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, was grand marshal of the race and gave the command to start engines. And true to the form he became famous for in his career, he made sure to say “hi to my family back home” before giving the command.

* While this was the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it was the first without legendary racer Dan Gurney, who passed away in January at the age of 86. Gurney and promoter Chris Pook joined forces in 1973 to convince Long Beach officials to hold a race on the city’s streets along its ocean side. The Long Beach GP has gone on to be arguably the second most-popular IndyCar race in the U.S., next to the Indianapolis 500.

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Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”