Josef Newgarden scores first victory at Long Beach, holding off Romain Grosjean

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LONG BEACH, California — Josef Newgarden capitalized on a swift pit stop and good strategy, fending off a charge Sunday by Romain Grosjean to win the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, his first NTT IndyCar Series victory on the famed street circuit.

It was the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series victory for the Team Penske driver, who also won at Texas Motor Speedway last month. Penske has opened the 2022 season by winning the first three races (with Scott McLaughlin the victor in the season opener at St. Petersburg) for the first time since the 2012 season.

Newgarden led a race-high 32 of 85 laps in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, cycling ahead of pole-sitter Colton Herta on his first stop. He then took the lead when defending series champion Alex Palou stopped. Newgarden then barely held onto first over Palou after making his second stop on Lap 57.

LONG BEACH BOXSCORE: Click here for where everyone finished Sunday

POINTS, RESULTS: Full statistical rundown of the Grand Prix of Long Beach

“Man, this was a fight today; this was not an easy race to win,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider after his 22nd career victory (which ranks 20th all time on the IndyCar list). “I don’t know if it looked simple from the outside, but I was working my butt off with Grosjean at the end there. I was hoping he would fade a little bit toward the end, just trying to hold him off on the restart was super difficult. This car was on it.

“We knew coming into the race, we have a good strategy, make good fuel, and I had everything I needed with pit stops. Proud of Team Penske. I’ve been trying to win a race here for 11 years. I’m so happy to finally get it done.”

Grosjean, who pulled alongside Newgarden on the final restart with five laps remaining but was unable to complete the pass, finished second and was followed by Palou, Will Power and Pato O’Ward.

It was the first podium at Andretti Autosport for Grosjean, who is in his first full-time IndyCar season and told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that it’s been 3,908 days since his most recent victory (in Formula 2).

“Very close but not close enough,” said Grosjean, who started sixth after a final-round qualifying crash Saturday and had used up all his push-to-pass accelerant before catching Newgarden. “It was fun. We had the right tire strategy. Alex, he did really good braking to defend his position (in second), so I had to wait an extra lap and use another 15 seconds of push to pass.

“Josef made one mistake, but I just couldn’t use it. I have to admit the Chevy engine was fast on the straights, and I couldn’t quite keep up. Very happy with P2 today.”

Palou, who led 22 laps, knew that his Lap 57 battle for the lead with Newgarden (who was on colder tires with less grip) likely would determine the race winner.

“We did a good strategy, went third to first on strategy and pit stops, and the crew did an amazing job,” Palou said. “We were so close. It was a really good pit stop again, but I did the out lap before, and that’s why we came out behind Josef. They did an amazing job. I’m super proud of everybody on the 10 car and everybody at the Chip Ganassi Racing team. Wasn’t our day, we’ll try again at Barber.”

The restart was set up by a caution on Lap 75 after Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 8 in an accident that also collected rookie David Malukas.

It was the third crash of the race weekend for Johnson, who was racing with a carbon fiber splint on the right hand that he fractured in a Friday wreck. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was fine, though, waving to fans of his native Southern California while walking to a safety vehicle.

The tight and treacherous 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course produced its share of incidents and crashes, most notably for the defending race winner.

Pole-sitting race favorite Colton Herta crashed after leading the first 28 laps.

The Santa Clarita, California, native wrecked his No. 26 Dallara-Honda in Turn 9 while pushing on an in-lap into the pits in an incident similar to his crash with a dominant car from the pole position at Nashville last season.

“I just broke a little too late, got in there, locked the right front, and that’s it,” Herta told Snider. “It’s just a stupid mistake. We were definitely in that thing, running good there in third. It’s unfortunate, I feel really bad.”

Herta, who started from the pole of his hometown race for the first time, led the first 28 laps before pitting.

The Andretti Autosport driver emerged from the pits in third behind Palou, who had stopped two laps earlier, and Newgarden, who stopped a lap after Herta.

“I was surprised,” Herta said about the loss of positions. “I didn’t know how that happened. So we’ll have to look a little bit more into that.

“The car was fantastic. My engineer, Nathan, gave me a great car. Yeah, just overdid it a little bit today.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.