Roger Penske has to be quite proud of the newest addition to his team this year. Josef Newgarden definitely earned his keep with the team today with his first win in only his third race with Team Penske at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park.
Not only that, but the Tennessee native won his, as it was coined, “home” GP today. It’s certainly a special day.
It was an intense battle to first for Newgarden, as he started out at seventh on the grid. He would be the lowest Penske teammate to qualify, with his three teammates starting at P1-P3.
The young Penske “rookie” fought hard to get towards the front. For the latter half of the race, it was a close run between himself and Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, with the two constantly switching back and forth. A close, near-contact pass between them in the latter half of the race really amplified the fight.
The last thirteen laps were the most heated. Somehow Charlie Kimball managed to lead the race after a full-course caution, but he pitted and returned P1 to its rightful owner, Will Power, who had been leading near 60 laps of the race. A punctured left-rear tire would pit Power and give the lead to his teammate (and race winner) Newgarden.
Dixon was on Newgarden the entire rest of the race, with both using their push-to-pass as much as they could to either catch-up or avoid the other from catching up. As strategy would have it, Dixon at one point managed to have twice the amount of time Newgarden had available and it seemed passing him would be entirely possible. But Newgarden would keep ahead just enough that the pass never happened and he joyously took the victory at the checkered flag.
Dixon ironically finished as he raced the entire day, finding himself on the podium between two Penske drivers. He managed to be the one Honda car splitting up the four Chevys throughout the race. The unfortunate result of the day is his experience with “being the bridesmaid, but never the bride” at the end of the race. Today made Dixon’s fifth, second-place finish at Barber. He’s now landed seven podiums at the park, yet not a single one of those podium finishes is a win. You just had to root for him a little today and hope perhaps he would finally get that win. But it just didn’t happen. At least not this year.
It was intense, and shall we say, “beautiful?” This is what racing is about though–racing hard and doing your best–passing, the intensity and anxiety that makes us sit at the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens. Dixon could have had it. He was there and he pushed incredibly hard. Newgarden played just as well, and in no doubt earned his win.
Power never really recovered from his pitting for the rear tire. The fates had their way and just would not let the man have a win, yet again.
The other Penske teammates, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, both made a top five finish with P3 and P4, respectively.
A nice addition and surprise in the top five spots today, was Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi. He’s been driving very well the last two races, but was handed some bad luck last week, and additionally some difficulties qualifying on Saturday. He started 18th and made his way to a 5th place finish. A nice little change of luck for the Andretti garage.
Speaking of–that was about the extent of the Andretti luck this weekend. Ryan Hunter-Reay was off to a great start until a collision with Simon Pagenaud lost him a piece of his car, also causing the first caution of the race. He returned to the pits to repair the damage, and reemerged 17th, but never quite recovered.
Marco Andretti suffered a bout of bad luck as well. After having made the fastest lap in practice Sunday morning, he was unable to start the race due to an electrical issue causing problems with his gearbox. He did get to race, only he started three laps behind and no amount of cautions in the world could rectify his loss.
Takuma Sato finished in the top ten today though, which helps the team out, and also makes up for last week, immensely.
*It would be worth adding, at least there was a little extra “sunshine” in the Andretti garage this weekend, as the two-time F1 World Champion driver Fernando Alonso, was hanging out and getting to know the IndyCar side of things. Oh, and answering all of the questions from just about any and everyone.
The top 10 from the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama:
1. Josef Newgarden
2. Scott Dixon
3. Simon Pagenaud
5. Alexander Rossi
6. James Hinchcliffe
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Takuma Sato
10. Mikhail Aleshin
And last but not least…the top five drivers in points in the series:
1. Sebastien Bourdais (*holding it by six points!)
2. Scott Dixon
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. James Hinchcliffe