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.

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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.”