Photo: Penske’s Josef Newgarden standing on the start/finish line at ISM Raceway in Phoenix after his short-oval victory Saturday night. (Image by Chris Owens, via IndyCar Media)
Another unpredictable night of racing for IndyCar at the Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix this weekend at ISM Raceway.
Saturday night was a highly-anticipated race and started with high expectations given the debut of the new aero kits for a full evening of racing on the short oval circuit. The 250 lap race was not without some highlights, but was still missing a little something. Yes there was some incredible passes, but odd mistakes, like Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais and Andretti’s Alexander Rossi not stopping sooner in the pit and running down crew members, or A.J. Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist leaving pit too soon due to a release error and losing the left rear wheel due to the lack of a nut on that tire, ultimately ending the race for the young rookie.
Both Bourdais and Rossi would serve drive-through penalties for their incidents, and the crew members remained in tact (not as fortunate as Kimi Raikkonen’s crew member in Formula 1…).
But the two names to know are rookie driver of Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, Robert Wickens, and of course, the 2017 IndyCar Champion, Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
Wickens is the name to watch as he already lead the majority of the race in St. Petersburg just a few weeks ago in his maiden season. That glory was short-lived though as that top podium finish went to Bourdais after an incident with Rossi ended his lead and race.
So this weekend Wickens, yet again as one of the 2018 IndyCar rookie class this season, showed off his skill as he lead another 44 laps of the race.
It looked as though the 29-year-old rookie would have the win, but a caution issued during laps 229-242 provided the ultimate strategy for the Penske team. Wickens was already running on somewhat ragged tires by the time Newgarden pit and received a fresh set himself. As the course returned to green, with time and a couple of laps to get the tires to temperature, strategy was key as Newgarden leapt the remainder of the field with a fantastic pass, and the new tires allowed him to pull away from Wickens, grabbing his first win of the season.
Newgarden’s victory brings him to the forefront of the championship standings, while Alexander Rossi’s two podium finishes means a second-place in the standings. Only five points separate the two. The only one that appears to continually lose out is Wickens, who has had two promising finishes these last two races, yet not much to show for it, aside from at least a podium finish this week.
Results for the 2018 Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix:
1. #1 Josef Newgarden (Penske)
2. #7 Robert Wickens (R) (SPM)
3. #27 Alexander Rossi (Andretti)
4. #9 Scott Dixon (Ganassi)
5. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti)
6. #5 James Hinchcliffe (SPM)
7. #20 Ed Carpenter (ECR)
8. #14 Tony Kanaan (A.J. Foyt)
9. #15 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
10.#22 Simon Pagenaud (Penske)
11. #30 Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
12. #98 Marco Andretti (Andretti-Herta)
13. #18 Sebastien Bourdais (Coyne)
14. #21 Spencer Pigot (ECR)
15. #88 Gabby Chaves (R) (Harding)
16. #26 Zach Veach (R) (Andretti)
17. #23 Charlie Kimball (Carlin)
18. #59 Max Chilton (Carlin)
19. #Matheus Leist (R) (A.J. Foyt)
20. #10 Ed Jones (Ganassi)
21. #32 Kyle Kaiser (Juncos)
22. #12 Will Power (Penske)
23. #19 Pietro Fittipaldi (R) (Coyne)