Josef Newgarden kicks off IndyCar season with St. Petersburg win

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Josef Newgarden’s gamble on a second stint of alternate ‘red’ tires paid off, as he drove away from the field to win the IndyCar season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg. It is Newgarden’s 11th career victory and extends a winning streak to five consecutive years.

Newgarden, who went to sticker ‘reds’ on a stop at Lap 56, led 60 laps and took the lead for the final time on Lap 81 of 110.

“We were literally talking about it right before the race, Tim (Cindric, team strategist) and me were – trying to decide whether to go new or used reds [at the start], and we made the call at the last minute to go used,” Newgarden said on NBCSN after the race. “We’ll have that advantage if we needed it, and we used it. It just worked out perfectly.”

Newgarden had to survive traffic in the closing laps and it took a while to get around Marco Andretti. That allowed Scott Dixon to close within 2.5 seconds with laps running off the clock, but once clear of traffic, he was able to maintain his advantage.

“It was killing me,” Newgarden said. “It was definitely manufacturers playing good guys with each other. It was really tough. I just didn’t want to see people in front of me. I just wanted to keep running my laps. … Everyone was kind enough. It was still hard, but everyone was kind enough.”

Andretti and second-place Scott Dixon both race Hondas.

Dixon’s battle for second was hampered by the loss of his water bottle.

“It was definitely a tough race,” Dixon said. “We never really had any downtime. … It was pretty physical with no fluids.”

Dixon also noted the traffic that allowed him to get a run on Newgarden.

“It’s hard in those situations. You know the lapped traffic is trying to stay on the lead lap; they’re off strategy a little bit. I think it was Marco that was racing him pretty hard there at the end.”

Drivers from the front two rows dominated the race with polesitter Will Power taking the early lead before giving it over to rookie Felix Rosenqvist. Dixon and Newgarden also stayed among the top four for the entire race with the exception of pit stop sequences.

Power finished third.

In his first IndyCar race, Rosenqvist led 31 laps and finished fourth.

The battle for third and fourth came in the pits and while leaving them.

“I think there was a bit more in it,” Rosenqvist said. “Some of the pit stops didn’t really go as planned,” Rosenqvist said. “It was a good enough package to win the race. Just some small things didn;t really go our way, but I’m really happy.”

Power pitted on Lap 50. Rosenqvist pitted two laps later and was a little slower. When he exited the pits, Power nipped him at the exit and forced Rosenqvist to get hard on the brakes and almost spin.

Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five.

Click here for complete results

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Rookies Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci scored top-10s in the first race of the season, finishing eighth and ninth respectively. … Jack Harvey scored his first top 10 in a 10-race IndyCar career. … Simon Pagenaud overcame a 13th-place qualification effort to finish seventh.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Sebastien Bourdais’ bid for three consecutive St. Petersburg wins came to an end on Lap 13 with an engine failure; he finished last in 24th. … Ryan Hunter-Reay blew on Lap 20 while running seventh; the issue dropped him to 23rd. … Ed Jones went hard into the wall on Lap 26 and then Matheus Leist clipped his right rear tire; both drivers retired with crash damage, finishing 21st and 22nd respectively. … Marcus Ericsson pitted with engine problems just short of the halfway mark.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I got a run on (James Hinchcliffe) and I just caught the wall on Turn 9, which turned the car straight on into the outside wall. It sucks for the team after a joke of a qualifying session yesterday.” – Ed Jones on NBCSN after he retired from contact.

WHAT’S NEXT: IndyCar heads to Austin, Texas for the inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas on March 24.

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Indianapolis 500 weather forecast: Rain chances decreasing for start

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the green flag keeps approaching for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the chances of clear skies Sunday keep increasing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The chance of rain at the start of the race was down to about 30%, according to the wunderground.com site as of late Saturday night, and the forecast seemed good until late afternoon when the odds of precipitation rose to about 80%.

If the race starts on time at12:45 p.m. ET, that should be a long enough window to run the full 500 miles and certainly an official race (102 of 200 laps).

With Indiana on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone and a 9:02 p.m. sunset on race day, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said the green flag probably could be held as late as 6 p.m. if a worst-case scenario of bad weather hits.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch

“We ran the NASCAR race (in 2017) almost right up to sunset,” Boles said. “The challenge of getting closer to sunset is just getting people out when it’s still light. The race itself is more than 2 hours and 40 minutes so you have to back-time yourself.

“We’ll sit down with IndyCar over the next 24 hours and at least have that in the back of our mind. If there’s a window to get it done, our intent would be get it in Sunday, so we would want to go as late as we could.”

Boles said National Weather Service representatives are on site this weekend to help with forecasting. Regardless of if there still is a threat of rain, the track will start the race on time as long as the surface is dry.

“I can’t imagine we’d postpone the start because we think it might rain,” Boles said. “If it’s not raining, we’re running the race.

Boles said track officials are monitoring Sunday’s weather daily but won’t discuss any potential contingency plans until Saturday night. Regardless of whether it’s raining Sunday morning, some pre-race ceremonies likely will remain in place.

“It’s hard to speculate on what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s likely Sunday morning will be the first time that we have any definitive statement on what we think is going to happen. Instead of giving you information that we don’t know what it’s going to be like, I’d rather wait until that Sunday when we see the conditions, and we’ll let you know.

“Obviously, if it’s raining, then we’ll have to decide what the next steps are.”

Boles said Indiana weather traditionally is unpredictable, noting that qualifying was completed last Sunday despite predictions of a complete washout.

“Last year the prediction was it was going to rain on race day, we got up next morning, and it was perfect,” Boles said. “It just changes so rapidly around here.”

Should it rain, IndyCar officials will make every reasonable attempt to run the Indy 500 on time,. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also recently used a new sealant on the track surface which makes it quicker to dry the racing surface.

During the previous 102 runnings of the Indy 500, there have been 12 impacted by rain: three complete postponements; two partial postponements and seven shortened races.

So what happens if it does rain? Some options:

Rain-shortened race

The Indy 500 could turn into the Indy 255. If more than 255 miles (102 laps) are completed in Sunday’s race, the race can be deemed official. If the race is called, driver’s finishing positions are based on their position in the race at the time of the caution flag for rain.

The Indy 500 has been shortened by rain only seven times, most recently in 2007. The race was stopped nearly three hours because of rain on Lap 113 and was declared officially over with Dario Franchitti in the lead when rain again hit at the 415-mile mark.

Partial postponement

If fewer than 102 laps are completed Sunday, the race will resume on the next dry day. With most Americans on holiday Monday because of Memorial Day, a partial postponement still might allow for a healthy audience at the track and watching on NBC.

The race has been partially postponed only twice in the 102 previous runnings, in 1967 and 1973.

Complete postponement

Fans shouldn’t worry too much about a complete postponement of the race, as it has only happened three times, most recently in 1997. If rain completely postpones the Indy 500, the race will be rescheduled for the next day with the start time dependent on the forecast.

The 1997 race ran 15 laps on Monday before rain again postponed the remainder of the race until Tuesday. The 1915 and ’86 runnings were postponed until the following Saturday.