AVONDALE, Arizona – Josef Newgarden benefited from fresh tires on a late pit stop and charged from fourth place in the final seven laps to win the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.
The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion driving the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden took the lead for the first time on Lap 206 of 250 on the 1.022-mile oval. A caution flag on Lap 230, when driver Ed Jones hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4, forced teams to decide whether to pit for a new set of Firestone tires or make it to the finish with what they had.
Rookie Robert Wickens, who nearly won the season opener last month at St. Petersburg, Florida, before being involved in a late-race incident, was the leader on the Lap 243 restart, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi directly behind.
Newgarden, among eight lead-lap cars that stopped for new tires, bolted immediately past Rossi and Hinchcliffe on the outside through Turns 1 and 2 on the restart. He then sized up Wickens, in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, and made the winning pass – again on the outside in Turn 1 – on Lap 247.
It was Newgarden’s eighth career victory and first at ISM Raceway. It was also the 198th Indy car victory for Team Penske.
Wickens finished second by 2.9946 seconds for his first podium finish in his second Verizon IndyCar Series start. Rossi, in the No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, placed third.
Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon finished fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
The race saw just two caution periods, for single-car incidents involving Jones and rookie Pietro Fittipaldi. Neither driver was injured.
Newgarden also unofficially took the championship lead with 77 points after two of 17 races, followed by Rossi with 72, Sebastien Bourdais with 70, Graham Rahal with 63 and Hunter-Reay with 62.