DETROIT – Three into one won't go – in the classroom and on the racetrack
NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden learned that lesson the hard way in the Motor City on Sunday.
Following a Saturday win in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, Newgarden tried an ambitious overtaking move going into Turn 3 on Lap 33 in Sunday’s second race of the weekend at Belle Isle Park. It wound up taking him out of contention and sizably shrinking his NTT IndyCar Series points lead.
Newgarden, in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, was battling Alexander Rossi for position when James Hinchcliffe re-entered the fray in front of them after making a pit stop. As they roared toward the third turn, Newgarden dove inside Hinchcliffe, with Rossi trailing close behind.
But Newgarden got loose under braking and spun sideways into the tire barrier. Rossi bumped into the back of Hinchcliffe, sending the Canadian’s car into the prone Newgarden. While both Newgarden and Hinchcliffe were stranded with their wheels interlocked, Rossi somehow drove off unscathed in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda.
Rossi eventually finished fifth. Hinchcliffe, in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, and Newgarden rejoined the race after repairs to their cars and finished 18th and 19th, respectively. The result saw 10 points trimmed from Newgarden’s championship lead, to 15 over Rossi after eight races.
Newgarden shouldered the bulk of the blame for the crash in a thrilling race won by five-time series champ Scott Dixon. Asked if his dive into the corner was a fair move, Newgarden was brutally honest.
"Whether that was right or not – (Hinchcliffe) checked me up and I had to go down a gear and then we were in a bad situation with Rossi behind us,” Newgarden said. “I can't blame anyone. It's my fault. It's ultimately my fault with the way if happened."
"We were on cold tires, they were on hot," he said. "(Newgarden) ran out of patience. Josef had plenty of time to do it – get the pass done. He just ran out of patience."
Newgarden didn't disagree, though he believes Hinchcliffe could’ve stayed out of the racing line knowing that Newgarden and Rossi would be faster.
"I thought he didn't really have to come straight across the track," Newgarden said. "It's still my fault; I should have made a better decision. This obviously was not the right thing to do. It's on me so I feel bad. It hurts the momentum. Sorry for my guys. Sorry for my team. Sorry to Chevrolet."
Rossi was able to keep going by spinning his car around as Felix Rosenqvist drove through the middle of the mess.
"There were three of us going for it," Rossi said. "I was all the way on the inside, and it was getting pretty dicey, so I just bailed out and I guess I made the right decision."
Rosenqvist was appreciative of that.
“I think (Rossi) saw me coming and he went for (the accelerator), and it opened up a gap,” Rosenqvist said. “That was very well handled.”
In retrospect, Newgarden said he should have tried to pass Hinchcliffe on the left rather than the right because the latter was more littered with debris.
"(Hinchcliffe) was guarding the middle,” Newgarden said. “That pushed me all the way to the inside line, which is where all the debris is. We all lost it in the middle of the corner."
There's no time off for the drivers to lick their wounds. The NTT IndyCar Series returns to action on Saturday with the DXC Technology 600 on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway. Race coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.