Josef Newgarden kept Team Penske unbeaten in three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races this season with his second consecutive win of 2022, capturing the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in a taut, three-way tussle under brilliant Southern California sunshine Sunday.
Newgarden earned his first career Long Beach victory in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, holding off Romain Grosjean in the No. 28 DHL Honda and reigning series champion Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Grosjean tied a career best by finishing second, with Palou rounding out the podium finishers in third.
The race ended under caution after Takuma Sato speared the tire barrier in Turn 8 on Lap 84 of the 85-lap race.
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“This was a fight today,” Newgarden said. “This was not an easy race to win. I was working my butt off with Grosjean at the end there on the used reds (Firestone alternate tires). This Hitachi car was on it. I’ve been trying to win a race here for 11 years, so I’m so happy to get it done.”
2014 series champion Will Power finished fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet as Team Penske has claimed at least two of the first four spots at the finish in all three races this season. The last time Team Penske won the first three races of the season was 2012, and Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020 was the last NTT INDYCAR SERIES team to open a season with three straight wins.
Pato O’Ward rounded out the top five in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, his first top-10 result of the season.
Two-time series champion Newgarden took the series points lead with his 22nd career INDYCAR SERIES victory. He leads teammate Scott McLaughlin, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg, 118-113. McLaughlin finished 14th in the No. 3 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet.
Newgarden took the lead for good on Lap 55 when leader Palou made his final pit stop for fuel and primary Firestone tires. Newgarden pitted for the last time two laps later, also taking fuel and Firestone primary tires, and upon pit exit narrowly stayed ahead of Palou, who was screaming down the main straightaway on Shoreline Drive trying to win a drag race for the lead.
The two series champions went side by side in a duel for the lead on Newgarden’s out lap after his pit stop, making slight hip check contact in Turn 5 of the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit. But Newgarden stayed in front.
“I think the out lap with Palou was more risky,” Newgarden said. “We got together in T5 going in deep, and that almost didn’t work out when we were side by side in that corner. We were side by side in Turn 6.
“That was the difficult battle. But I think Grosjean, overall, just had a better shot of getting it done. But fortunately, we just held on.”
Grosjean was on a different strategy than all the other leading cars, as he took Firestone alternate tires on his final pit stop on Lap 56, the lap between Palou and Newgarden’s last stops. The “red” tires offer more traction with their softer rubber, but they wear more quickly.
Still, Grosjean was able to save his grippier but less durable tires over the final stint because two of the race’s four caution periods took place between his final stop and the race-ending caution after Sato collided with the tire barrier in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda on Lap 84 after a joust for position with Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet.
Grosjean took advantage of the extended tire wear to pass Palou with an outside move into Turn 1 on Lap 70. He then set his sights on Newgarden, pulling close while using all his available push-to-pass boost.
A caution triggered by Jimmie Johnson spinning into the tire barriers in Turn 8 on Lap 76 in his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and collecting the No. 18 HMD Honda of rookie David Malukas bunched the field one last time and gave Grosjean his best chance at passing Newgarden.
Newgarden got a strong jump on the restart, but an alert Grosjean also got a great restart and stayed on Newgarden’s gearbox, with Palou in tow. But Grosjean never got close enough before the race-ending caution.
“Very close, but not close enough,” Grosjean said. “That was fun. With the right tire strategy and with the last caution, I thought it was going to be great. He (Newgarden) did one mistake, but I just couldn’t use it.”
NTT P1 Award winner Colton Herta led 28 laps – just four shy of Newgarden’s race-high total of 32 – but his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda was eliminated from the race in a crash in Turn 9 while running third on his in lap to the pits on Lap 56.
Newgarden is just one step away from winning the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge with his victory. The challenge offered by the industrial staffing giant is a bonus of $1 million to be awarded to the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver who can win on all three unique styles of tracks – street circuits, road courses and ovals – this season. The reward, if earned, will be divided, with $500,000 shared by the driver and his team and $500,000 presented to their chosen charity.
Newgarden already has won this season on an oval (Texas Motor Speedway) and a street circuit (Long Beach). His first opportunity for a road course victory comes at the next event, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park, where he has three career INDYCAR SERIES victories (2015, 2017, 2018).
PeopleReady is offering an additional $10,000 to the winner of every race this season, also to be split with their selected charity. Newgarden is splitting his award from today’s race with SeriousFun Childrens Network and Wags & Walks Nashville.