ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden became the first three-time NTT IndyCar Series winner this season with a decisive victory in Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America.
It was Newgarden’s 22nd career victory, which ties him with Tommy Milton for 19th on the all-time victory list.
The win was also worth an additional $1 million bonus in the PeopleReady Force for Good for charity and his team on Sunday. The $1 million bonus went to the first driver that scored a win on each type of race course including street course, oval, and permanent road course.
Newgarden’s three victories this season have come at the Texas Motor Speedway oval, on the streets in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and Sunday on the massive 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America road course.
The $1 million will be split between Newgarden and Team Penske, and the two charities of Newgarden’s choice – Wags and Walks of Nashville and SeriousFun Children’s Network.
This is his second win at Road America.
“I just kept forgetting about it,” Newgarden 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.”
The accomplishment of victories on street, oval and road course is also very satisfying to the driver.
“That’s what makes IndyCar so tough,” Newgarden said. “It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen. I thought we had it all locked up in Detroit. It was going to be easy from the front row and it was anything but easy. It went completely different than we predicted. That’s just what makes this series so difficult, and it makes it fun to be in. You’ve got to be on your toes at all times. You can go in with a plan, but you’re probably going to have to change your plan 90 percent of the time once the race starts.”
Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport started on the pole and led the first 15 laps. That is when the lead two cars in the field, Rossi’s No. 27 Honda, and Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevrolet, came into the pits together for the first stop.
Newgarden had the last pit on pit road, which meant the first on pit out. Rossi’s pit area was six pit boxes behind. Although Rossi got a quick pit stop, Newgarden’s was quicker and by beating Rossi onto the track, he was in the lead and in control of the race.
Rossi would lead just one more lap after that pit sequence. Newgarden would lead 26 laps, the most of any driver in the race, including the final 13 laps.
Newgarden finished 3.3710-seconds ahead of Marcus Ericsson’s No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.
“It was going to be that point or another point,” Newgarden said of the first pit stop. “Truthfully, I was hoping for an all-green start, no cautions, because I felt that’s where we could find the exposure in Rossi’s game.
“I was biding my time but felt like I had the straight speed advantage with him. I felt like my Chevy was much quicker than him on the straights. I was going to wait for an opportunity.
“All the yellows really took away that potential. We were running most of the laps under caution, so the reds weren’t going to drop off as much. We needed to make the difference somewhere else. We came in right on his tail. I made sure, ‘Look, I’m going to give my team ample opportunity, get as close as I can to Rossi on the pits.
“If it wasn’t going to happen on the pit stop, it was going to be an out lap or a back end of a stint (indiscernible). The pit stop is what ended up being the pivotal point for us. If that wasn’t the point, I think we could have made that point somewhere else today.”
Pit selection also played a key to Newgarden’s race-winning move early in the race.
“We were first out, if you will, first box, which always helps,” Newgarden said. “You got a clear out. You don’t have to worry about typically a lot of the mess going on in the middle or wherever you’re located at.
“It does pay to start up front.”
There were 226 total passes on track this year, 191 for position. Last year’s record (going back to 2016) was 231 and 194.
There were three caution flags in the first eight laps in the race including the opening lap when Jimmie Johnson spun and was stuck in the grass in Turn 3. Johnson believes Tatiana Calderon forced him off the track.
“That’s ridiculous,” Johnson said.
He would remain in the race and finished 24th, the first care one lap down.
On Lap 3, Alex Palou and teammate Marcus Ericsson collided and Palou’s No. 10 American Legion Honda was buried in the Turn 5 gravel pit.
“I think everybody saw that,” Palou said. “I think he was trying to win the race on the third lap and the car broke. That’s it, game over. I was surprised that my teammate hit me. It’s a single-seat and if you have a hard hit like that, it will break.
“We can play that game, too, so we’ll see.”
Palou’s car was able to be repaired and returned to the track. He finished last in the 27-car field, 19 laps down.
On Lap 8, rookie driver Devlin DeFrancesco drove Team Penske’s Will Power off the track in Turn 5. Power’s car lost the front nose assembly, but he battled back to a 19th-place finish.
“I got taken out early and finally got a yellow at the end to close everything up,” Power said. “You have these messy days like this, and you have to move on. That’s the beauty of being up there in the points. It doesn’t kill you. You are still in the game.
“I’m not sure what I would say to Devlin, but it wouldn’t be good. He has developed a reputation this year of being an idiot. He has to learn to calm down and let the races come to him. He misjudged. He didn’t have to hit me.
“Nothing you can do about it. I went down to see him, but he wasn’t there.”
Ericsson regained the points lead and has a 25-point lead over Power. Newgarden is third, 30 points out.
“I was just trying to stay focused on what I had to do,” Newgarden 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. Team Chevy’s bringing it with this engine. Just so proud to be here and People’s Choice.
“I keep forgetting about this million bucks.”