Newgarden dominates in Road America win

Polesitter Alexander Rossi led early, lost the lead in the pits to Josef Newgarden, and from there, IndyCar’s annual visit to Road America became the site of the Team Penske driver’s third victory of the year in the No. 2 Chevy. Having come close to winning the race last year only to have a transmission problem on the last restart, Newgarden made good on the potential his team showed in 2021 to lead with conviction for 26 of the 55 laps run on Sunday.

Newgarden was simply untouchable after a string of full-course cautions gave way to clean running, and in unobstructed air, the two-time IndyCar champion pulled away and held a lead over Andretti Autosport’s Rossi that sat somewhere between four to five seconds. The fifth and final caution of the day made for an anxious moment but he streaked away on the lap 52 restart and left Rossi behind; by the time they got to lap 53 of 55, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson drafted by and claimed second, which he held until the checkered flag.

Newgarden won by 3.3s over Ericsson and 5.6s over Rossi, and beyond earning another victory, Newgarden also captured the PeopleReady Force For Good $1 million challenge as the first driver this season to earn first place on an oval (Texas), street course ( Long Beach) and road course (Road America).

“I was just trying to stay focused on what I had to do,” he said. “Just an unbelievable job by everyone at Team Penske. Great to have PPG on board with us. We’ve had a lot of success with this car and Team Chevy. That first stop really set the tone for us. I felt like our car was really hooked up and we had everything we needed from Chevy on the power side.”

Newgarden will split the $1 million with two charities that hold special meanings for the 31-year-old from Tennessee.

“I just kept forgetting about it,” he said of the bonus. “To finally get it done and to most importantly give that money to charity; half that money is going to charity with SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville. I hope they are happy about that. That’s a lot of money coming their way.”

After Rossi, two of his Andretti brethren ran well with the aforementioned Grosjean in P4 and a charging Colton Herta in P5, having returned the spot he earned in qualifying but lost when a six-position grid penalty was assessed for an unapproved engine change. The top six was completed by Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist who led those who pitted early and were forced to save copious amounts of fuel for most of the race.

Elsewhere, Graham Rahal was the biggest mover of the day, going from P22 to P8 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The race was also marred by unfortunate exits for two drivers in the hunt for the title when Ericsson and teammate Alex Palou made contact that left the reigning champion in last place and AMSP’s Pato O’Ward suffered an apparent engine failure nine laps from the end that left him in P26.

A well-packed-up field at the start. Gavin Baker/Lumen

The 55-lap race began with an orderly start — a nice change — and the field of 27 made it through three corners before the first bout of contact saw Jimmie Johnson try to go around the outside of Tatiana Calderon, but as he got closer, her move to the left coincided with his passing attempt on the far left of the road. Sailing off into the grass, Johnson spun and stalled in the gravel trap and lost a lap while waiting to be restarted under the first full-course caution of the day.

Having passed Calderon and Johnson, Simona De Silvestro pitted at the end of lap 2 to top up her fuel tank and switch from Firestone alternates to primaries.

On the lap 4 restart Rossi got a great start but another FCY was required when Ericsson pulled out late to pass teammate Alex Palou on entry to Turn 5; slight contact with Ericsson’s right-rear wheel to Palou’s left front appeared to break the steering arm on Palou’s car, sending him into the gravel. Contact up the hill at Turn 6 between Christian Lundgaard and Rinus VeeKay saw VeeKay off and into the grass — and an advertising banner — on the exit of Turn 6 as well. Unable to steer his car to the pits, Palou’s day was effectively over as the No. 10 Honda was lifted away by a tow truck.

The lap 7 restart saw Rossi lead away again as teammate Colton Herta made up another spot, passing Scott McLaughlin for P6, up from P11. Clean racing lasted all of one lap as a third FCY was required as rookie Devlin DeFrancesco clashed with Will Power over P15 on entry to Turn 3, and by Turn 5, a second bout of contact with DeFrancesco — swinging to the left under braking to try and pass — ended with nerfing Power into the right-side wall. With significant nose damage to Power’s car, he was restarted and sent to pit lane where a new nose and suspension inspection was performed. He returned in P25.

During the FCY, a number of drivers, including Felix Rosenqvist in P9, stopped to trade alternates for primaries.

The lap 11 restart was unremarkable as Rossi led Josef Newgarden, Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Pato O’Ward and Herta. By lap 15, Rossi held 0.6949s over Newgarden as the rear alternate tires on the leader’s car seemed to be at the end of their lifespan. The two pitted at the end of the lap to go onto primary tires. Rossi’s team experienced a slow left-rear tire change and had to hold a moment for the pitting Scott McLaughlin, which promoted Newgarden to the lead.

Leader Ericsson and Grosjean pitted at the end of the next lap as did a lot of the other runners in the top 10. Going an extra lap did wonders for Ericsson who jumped in front of Rossi for what would eventually become P2 as the other cars pitted . Ericsson went off track at Turn 7 and handed the position back halfway around the lap and Rossi also had Grosjean trying to take his spot exiting the pits, which led to a close moment in Turn 1 that ultimately fell in Rossi’s favor. Next was Herta going by Grosjean at turn 5 for what would soon be P4.

Those on alternate strategies held the lead of the race on Lap 20 as Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal and VeeKay headed Newgarden. De Silvestro was up to P7 as Simon Pagenaud went for an insane ride by going off at The Kink, but kept the car off the wall.

Rosenqvist pitted on lap 26, handing the lead back to Newgarden, who pitted on lap 29 along with Herta, O’Ward and McLaughlin as Rossi stayed out and regained the lead. McLaughlin passed O’Ward in the pits. Rossi and Ericsson were in on the next lap.

One the pit stops were completed, Newgarden was back in the lead with 4.2 seconds over Rossi on lap 32. Rosenqvist, while saving fuel, was 6.5 seconds arrears and Ericsson was close behind him and went by on lap 34.

In on lap 41, Rosenqvist was the first of the lead cars to make their last stop and he was followed on lap 42 by leader Newgarden and Rossi, along with O’Ward and others.

With the last stops completed, Newgarden returned to a 4.5s-lead over Rossi on lap 44 of 55 and had a distance Ericsson in P3 at 14.4s behind, then Herta at 15.0s and Rosenqvist in P5 at 17.2. Grosjean took the position from Rosenqvist with ease on lap 46 as Rossi cut Newgarden’s lead to 3.2s.

Lap 48 saw the fourth FCY after O’Ward’s engine shut off entering Canada Corner and left him parked on the side of the road. The running order was Newgarden, Rossi, Ericsson, Herta, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, Rahal, McLaughlin, Dixon and Lundgaard in the top 10.

One more attempt to run the checkered flag was tried, but Helio Castroneves went off on lap 51 and another pause was required. The final blast to the finish saw Newgarden leave with haste and run away to a 3.3-second win over new P2 holder Ericsson who charged past Rossi who claimed P2 with teammate Grosjean just 0.2s behind in their drag race to the stripe.

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