Josef Newgarden wins at Texas; Jimmie Johnson finishes career-best sixth in IndyCar

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Josef Newgarden nipped teammate Scott McLaughlin on a last-lap pass for the victory at Texas Motor Speedway while Jimmie Johnson shined Sunday with his best finish yet in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Newgarden, who led only three laps, slipped by off Turn 4 to edge McLaughlin, who led a race-high 186 laps but came up 0.0669 seconds short after scoring the first victory of his career in the Feb. 28 season opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It was the eighth-closest IndyCar finish in Texas history.

Marcus Ericsson finished third, followed by Will Power and Scott Dixon in a 248-lap race that turned into a fuel-savings run in the second half.

RESULTS, POINTS, STATS: A full rundown after Texas

‘JIMMIE MANIA’ BEGINSJohnson is eyeing an Indy 500 win after a career best at Texas

It was the 600th victory for team owner Roger Penske, who paid off a $600 bounty to Newgarden in victory lane.

Newgarden told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider in victory lane that it was the most dramatic victory of his career.

“Oh my gosh,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I was fuming in the car. We had all this traffic, and it wasn’t helping me and then right when I needed it to help me, literally last corner, last lap, traffic helped me out.

“Unbelievable PPG car in victory lane. Also, our XPEL car. How about Scott? I think he led like 95 percent of the laps. I hate doing that to a teammate, but I was going for it just like he was. We were driving hard. Man, I was loose. I was driving things sideways off of (Turns) 3 and 4 every lap.

“Last lap, last corner that’s what it’s all about at Texas. I hope we come back. Let’s come back.”

Johnson patiently worked his way to a career-best finish from a career-high 18th starting position, achieving his two postrace goals at the track where the seven-time NASCAR champion has a record seven Cup Series wins. He narrowly missed a top five when he had to slow down in the final 10 laps to conserve fuel, ceding fifth to teammate Dixon.

“Once we hit the halfway point in the race, I could sense and feel the car, and it became second nature, and off I went,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I’m just very thankful for the support from Chip Ganassi Racing. We knew going oval racing would help, and today got us in a competitive mix.

“When I was racing with (Dixon) at the end, I thought that was pretty cool and pretty fun. We had a little trouble with our telemetry and didn’t know how much fuel I had saved, so I had to really go into conserve mode at the end and couldn’t fight for that top five, but what a special day. Just very thankful.”

The next oval on the schedule for Johnson is his expected debut in the Indy 500. As soon as he took the checkered flag Sunday, engineer Eric Cowdin radioed, “Let’s go win the Indy 500.”

“Yeah, no pressure,” Johnson said with a laugh. “This is a huge step in having a successful month of May at the Brickyard. Granted, it’s going to be a new track and a whole new learning curve but all the laps I’ve logged the last few days are going to be so helpful heading to the Indy 500.”

The race got off to a choppy start with four caution flags for 52 laps before halfway.

Andretti Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco was involved in three yellows that took out five cars. The last eliminated his No. 29 Honda, the No. 15 of Graham Rahal and the No. 06 of Helio Castroneves.

DeFrancesco clipped the apron while attempting to go three wide on the bottom in Turn 3, sliding up into Rahal (who collected Castroneves).

“I was certainly trying to give Helio as much room as I can,” Rahal said. “It’s just tight confines. As I said to Devlin, I think he’s got a bright future, but he punted Takuma (Sato) earlier in the race. You’ve got to learn from these mistakes. It’s tight in there, but you’re hoping you realize you’ve got bail out at speeds like this.”

DeFrancesco earlier had a wobble that led to contact with the left front of Sato, who slid up to brush the SAFER barrier in Turn 2 and cause a caution on Lap 99.

On the lap after the Lap 113 start, rookie Kyle Kirkwood spun into the Turn 4 wall after losing control while trying to pass DeFrancesco on the outside.

“I was good at first, around outside of Devlin,” Kirkwood said. “He wiggled a little bit and came up on me and pushed me just too far. Once, I caught it, and the next time, there was no catching it. Unfortunately, I was just forced up there.”

After a disappointing 20th in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener, Alexander Rossi’s start to the 2022 season got even worse at Texas.

Rossi was ruled to have jumped the start, but before the Andretti Autosport driver could serve the drive-through penalty, his No. 27 Dallara-Honda began slowing on the backstretch to trigger the first caution on Lap 12.

“We were losing voltage from the start of the race,” Rossi told Lee. “It just got exponentially worse until the battery just died. Here we are.”

It was the second consecutive race at Texas in which Rossi retired within the first 20 laps. Last year, he crashed coming to the start.

He will leave Texas buried in the points through the first two races of a contract year that he said needed a strong start after two winless seasons.

“At least we saw the green flag, so that’s cool,” Rossi deadpanned. “At this point, what do you say? It is what it is. The car was amazing. The NAPA/AutoNation boys did a wonderful job, and all weekend, it was really nice to drive. Green-flag call. It’s a shame. I think the car was fast, and I had a really good idea of how to get to the front. To not get that opportunity is pretty sad.”

Andretti teammate Romain Grosjean also retired from the race with an engine problem during a caution period just past the 100-lap mark of his second oval start.

“We lost power; we need to look into it,” Grosjean told Snider. “Obviously not great to be scoring points today and also not great to get experience on track. The car felt really good, but there’s nowhere you can pass here, so it’s very frustrating. There’s still things I need to do better on ovals but getting there.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).