Another race, another heartbreaking loss for Josef Newgarden.
Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden dominated for the second consecutive race, leading 32 of the 55 laps Sunday in the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America.
But a caution with three laps remaining for Ed Jones spinning in Turn 12 gathered the field for a two-lap dash to the finish. As Newgarden led the field up the hill to the green flag, he started experiencing problems shifting gears.
Newgarden was stuck in fifth gear as he approached Turn 1, unable to upshift into sixth gear. Eventually, Newgarden got his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet down into first gear, but he was unable to upshift any further after that. He limped to a 21st-place finish, 90 seconds behind winner Alex Palou.
“I got down to first, essentially, just trying to stay out of the mayhem,” Newgarden said. “I couldn’t get the thing to upshift. Not sure what happened. Obviously, it’s disappointing for all of us. I know we had a great car. We had a good car all day. We were doing everything we needed to. Surviving yellows, surviving the fuel game. I felt like our car was a rocket ship.”
Newgarden had the superior car of the weekend. He won the NTT P1 Award for pole Saturday afternoon and was in the top five in each of the three practice sessions throughout the weekend, pacing Practice 2.
The only time Newgarden was not out front in Sunday’s race was during green flag pit stop cycles when other teams were on different strategies or trying to catch a lucky break by leading if a caution came out.
“Team Chevy did a great job for us,” he said. “We had such amazing fuel mileage and good power. I’m super pleased for all of that. I’m really proud of our team, really proud of our partners. Just, I guess, it wasn’t meant to be again. I think we got fast cars. It’s just not working out for some reason right now.”
It was the second time in as many races that Newgarden relinquished the lead with less than three laps remaining. Last weekend in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, Newgarden was passed for the lead by Pato O’Ward with three to go as his Firestone alternate “red” tires had far less grip than O’Ward’s primary “black” tires.
Newgarden has led 99 of the last 125 laps in NTT INDYCAR SERIES competition between his 67 of 70 laps led in Detroit and 32 of 55 Sunday.
Now nine races into the season, this is the longest Team Penske has gone into a season without a victory since the team went winless in 1999. Since capturing his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory in 2015, the longest Newgarden has gone into a season without a win is 10 races, when he won at Iowa Speedway in 2016 for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Newgarden is fourth in the championship standings, 88 points behind points leader Palou. Newgarden is confident he can rally from that deficit by the end of the season to score his third Astor Challenge Cup.
“We’re going to claw back, believe me,” he said. “It’s not what I was planning for coming out of this day. I would have liked for us to be a little closer (in the championship), but what are we, 88 points out? It’s just a different challenge. We’ll get after it.”
Grosjean Brings Excitement to Road America
Road America is a favorite racetrack for many NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers and fans because there is action throughout the entire field.
While the biggest story up front was leader Newgarden dominating until late-race problems propelled Palou into the lead, there was action and excitement everywhere at Road America.
The best example was series rookie and Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean in the No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda, who made several bold passes and daring moves on his way to a fifth-place finish in what he said was some of the most fun he’s ever had in a race car.
With nine laps remaining, Grosjean battled 2019 Road America winner Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for 10th down the front straightaway. Rossi defended his position to the inside approaching Turn 1, so Grosjean decided to go the long way around and pass Rossi on the outside in a daring and decisive pass.
That came after another gutsy move Grosjean put on Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Hy-Vee Honda on Lap 38. As he chased Rahal’s red-and-white Honda into Turn 8, Rahal defended his position to the inside. Determined to make the pass, Grosjean went even more inside, diving past Rahal for sixth.
Grosjean, who said the 14-turn, 4.014-mile circuit reminds him of Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, had to drive extra hard to make up positions lost during pit stops all day. He said he enjoys launching into corners from far away and playing with the braking of the car, which made Sunday extra fun.
“I must say, that was the funnest race ever in my career,” Grosjean said. “Just right, left, center, go for it. And contact. A fair bit of contact. But I feel like that’s just the way you go in INDYCAR. I had great fun. I enjoyed it. I think there was a couple of bits and pieces we could have (improved), and we could have been on the podium. It was a good weekend for us.”
Magnussen’s Debut Cut Short
After leading six laps in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut, Formula One veteran Kevin Magnussen had a disappointing end to his day, finishing 24th after a mechanical problem took him out of the race.
Magnussen started 21st in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in his substitute role for Felix Rosenqvist, who was not cleared by the INDYCAR medical team to race this weekend at Road America after a heavy crash June 12 during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual at Detroit.
After NTT P1 Award qualifying Saturday, Magnussen was feeling confident in his adjustment to the series, insisting that had he been less antsy, he could have qualified better.
When given the opportunity to prove his talents, the Danish driver excelled. His team elected not to pit with the rest of the field on Lap 24 under caution, and Magnussen inherited the lead. He led six laps, from Lap 25 through Lap 30, when Takuma Sato worked his way past Magnussen.
While leading, he drove away from the likes of two-time Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Sato and two-time series champion Newgarden.
Shortly after his Lap 30 pit stop, Magnussen’s car experienced a problem, and he came to a stop in Turn 8, bringing an abrupt end to his promising NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut.
“All-in-all, this weekend has been a fun experience,” Magnussen said. “I’m very thankful to Arrow McLaren SP for the opportunity. I want to wish Felix a speedy recovery and to be back where he should be in the car. I’m going to leave here with a big smile on my face, although we didn’t finish the race due to a mechanical issue.”
Magnussen has no other NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on his schedule. He said Friday that racing in the series was something he has always wanted to do, and he has expressed interest in racing in the Indianapolis 500.
For now, he will return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Chip Ganassi Racing, where he won last weekend at Detroit.
Super Sub Askew Excels
The box score shows Oliver Askew finished mid-pack – 12th – in his substitute role for the injured Rinus VeeKay in the No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet, but it was a better weekend than the results show.
Askew had speed in the Ed Carpenter Racing machine all weekend long, setting a top-10 practice time Friday and having pace Sunday. Askew, 24, qualified a disappointing 16th for the race.
Due to starting near the back, Askew’s team put him on a different strategy than the leaders to leapfrog those on a similar strategy as the front-runners. That strategy worked well for Askew, who led late in the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR.
With seven laps to go, Askew inherited the lead as he was one of the last drivers that still needed to pit under green. He led Laps 49 and 50 of the 55-lap race before pitting and relinquishing the lead to Newgarden.
Askew caught a lucky break when a caution came out for Ed Jones’ spin in Turn 12 just two laps later. Askew had on fresh Firestone alternate “red” tires that provide more grip and speed over the short run.
When the field bunched up for the Lap 54 restart, Askew pounced on the drivers in front of him, muscling his way up to 12th at the checkered flag.
“Honestly, it was a really enjoyable race,” Askew said. “I struggled there toward the end with some strategy options that didn’t really play out, and then it ended up playing out for us. We caught the yellow there at the end that helped bunch the field up. We were on new reds and were able to pass a couple cars and finish P12. Very happy about that.”
Askew was subbing for VeeKay, who broke his collarbone in a biking accident earlier this week. It was the second race in a row that Askew filled in for an NTT INDYCAR SERIES athlete, as he hopped in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in place of Rosenqvist in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit last Sunday.
VeeKay expects to be back in the No. 21 when the NTT INDYCAR SERIES takes on Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sunday, July 4 (noon ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network).
Odds and Ends
- It was a racy day at Road America: There were 231 on-track passes in the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR, with 194 for position. That’s the most at Road America since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returned to the track in 2016.
- No attack, no chance for Takuma Sato. Early in the race, two-time Indy 500 winner Sato made a bold move on Conor Daly into Turn 12. Sato’s No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda slammed the side of Daly’s No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet. Sato was penalized for avoidable contact and forced to give up a position. He also suffered damage to the left sidepod of his car. However, he rebounded to finish eighth.
- Leading the most laps in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race appears to be a bad omen. For the sixth consecutive race, the driver who led the most laps did not find victory circle. Newgarden led a race-high 32 laps today.
- For the third straight race, an NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver with female engineers on the team won. Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou have women helping drive them to victory.
- Cody Ware drove to a respectable 19th-place finish in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the No. 52 Nurtec ODT Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR. Ware started 25th and kept his car clean, avoiding going off course or spinning out. Drivers he beat to the line include some of global motorsports’ best: Josef Newgarden, Jimmie Johnson and Magnussen.
- Max Chilton led his first laps in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in nearly three years with seven laps led Sunday, second-most behind Newgarden’s 32 laps led. Chilton was on a different pit stop strategy than the leaders and finished 10th in the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet.
- Indy Pro 2000 points leader Christian Rasmussen scored his fourth win of the season in the second Indy Pro 2000 race of the weekend at Road America. In USF2000, rookie Thomas Nepveu got his first career series win by just .0679 of a second over Simon Sikes. Meanwhile, David Malukas stomped the Indy Lights field, leading all 20 laps and beating Robert Megennis to the line by 4.5886 seconds. Malukas regained the championship lead.