After consecutive disappointments from the pole position, Josef Newgarden finally delivered Team Penske its first victory of the IndyCar season Sunday in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
In the last two races, Newgarden won the pole and dominated the race. He had the wrong tire strategy in the closing laps of Race 2 at Belle Isle and last week a broken gearbox with two laps remaining kept him out of Victory Lane.
For Mid-Ohio, Newgarden started again from the pole and led 73 of 80 laps while closing the deal.
STATS PACKAGE: Results and points standings from Mid-Ohio
Marcus Ericsson came on strong in the final laps, narrowing the gap from 6 seconds to a final margin of 0.8790 seconds. Newgarden saved the majority of his push-to-pass boost for the closing laps. With more than 100 seconds remaining as the field hit the 10-to-go mark, he needed all he could get to hold off the determined charge by Ericsson.
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“I’d start each stint and feel like I had everything under control,” Newgarden told NBC’s Kevin Lee from Victory Lane. “You get to the back end of it and everything started to fall apart. So it was really hard to hang on, but I had my wingman Tim (Cindric) coaching me the whole way.”
The win came on the 50th anniversary of Roger Penske’s first IndyCar win.
And with his 19th IndyCar victory, Newgarden becomes the winningest active driver over Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 18.
With a monthlong summer break ahead, the focus already has shifted to the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, which will be held Aug. 8 on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.
Newgarden, a Nashville native, wanted momentum entering his hometown race, picking up the top pit selection with his third consecutive pole.
“We need to be the first pit box out at Nashville, so we got that done yesterday,” Newgarden said. “We got some confidence with this win, so I feel like we can make it all happen. We can win any race we go into. Nashville would be a dream to have a good result for.”
Ericsson scored his second career podium and he has made them count. He won Bell Isle 1 three races ago and came up just short of beating Newgarden at Mid-Ohio.
“We had a great day,” Ericsson said. “The whole team to get 2-3-4 there was a great result. I’m really proud of the whole team.”
Ericsson jumped up to fifth in the points.
“We had a good strategy,” third-place finisher Alex Palou said. “The guys in the pits were amazing. I think we had the fastest pit stop and that is what gave us the podium.”
Palou finished five positions ahead of his closest championship rival Pato O’Ward and extended his advantage to 39 points.
Finishing fourth, Dixon gave Chip Ganassi three of the top-five slots in the same week that he sold the NASCAR portion of his organization to Trackhouse Racing.
Both Ericsson and Dixon have perfect records of top-10 finishes on road courses this year.
Last year, Alexander Rossi swept the podium in a doubleheader at Mid-Ohio. He rounded out the top five this week.
Colton Herta joined Newgarden on the front row and was his closest competitor in the opening laps – until his race fell apart in the pits. A fuel probe failed on the first stop and he stalled the car on his second and final stop. Herta dropped to 13th at the checkers.
Fireworks exploded during the opening laps. Before the field completed a lap, James Hinchcliffe ran into the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay in an accordion-style accident. Felix Rosenqvist was also collected in the incident.
Last week Will Power felt he was on a path to right his season, which saw him entering the race 11th in points.
Starting fourth and racing for a spot in the top five four laps into the race, Power clipped a curb and bounced into Scott Dixon. Power spun and anxiously waited to see if the remainder of the field would be able to miss his car. They couldn’t. Lost in the smoke, Ed Jones slammed into Power and destroyed both cars.
“(My wrist) is not broken, fortunately,” Power told Kevin Lee outside of the medical center. “I foolishly left my hands on the wheel when there was all that smoke. Good lesson there.
“Super disappointed to be out that early. Scott squeezed me down so much, I had nowhere to go. I actually slowed up a lot to make sure I wouldn’t hit him, but he squeezed me there tight. It was impossible. .. I should have known he would be aggressive because he was on reds and I was on blacks. He really wanted to get by.”