The PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway was every bit the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ version of the Wild West.
Josef Newgarden successfully defended his crown at the 1.5-mile superspeedway, as the driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet once again used late heroics for the win.
The 250-lap race featured 26 lead changes among eight drivers, with Newgarden taking the lead on Lap 249 prior to a crash by Romain Grosjean on that lap, bringing out the fifth and final caution. Newgarden led a race-high 123 laps.
Sato’s Crash Costly
This weekend marked Takuma Sato’s first race of the 2023 season, serving as an oval-only specialist in the No. 11 Niterra Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. A promising weekend was complimented by a sixth-place qualifying result but ended abruptly and cruelly on Lap 48.
The Japanese driver was racing with Team Penske’s Will Power through Turn 2 when it became three-wide after the No. 29 Capstone Honda of Devlin DeFrancesco jetted past underneath. In an instant, Sato was outside the upper groove and found the SAFER Barrier, making heavy contact before coming across the track and to a stop on the inside of the backstretch. While a 28th-place finish is plenty sour, worse is the fact the wrecked machine was also his primary car for the upcoming 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 28.
“Well, at that point I think, Will was a little bit too strong, and he got thrown outside,” Sato said. “So, I went wide but I think somebody went to the inside, too. So, I effectively was three-wide, and then Will came up to me a little bit high and then I could only go to the gray area, and then that was it. It's just slippery, got into the wall. I really feel sorry for the boys. The team did fantastic in preparations. It's really a pity.”
Pit Road Problems
During the caution created by Sato’s accident, the rest of the field hit pit road for service on Lap 51.
Alexander Rossi exited his stall at the same moment Kyle Kirkwood approached. The two made contact, which led to damage to Rossi’s No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and relegated him multiple times laps down. Race Control deemed it an unsafe release by Rossi and gave a drive-through penalty. Kirkwood’s No. 27 AutoNation Honda suffered a mechanical issue and ended up retiring after 97 laps, finishing 27th. Rossi ended up 22nd, seven laps down.
“We had a rear right upright failure,” Kirkwood said. “We just started smoking there, started, getting way too hot, and it's kind of in a meltdown phase right now.”
When asked about the contact with Rossi on pit lane by NBC, the Andretti Autosport driver shared his view on the incident.
“I asked the team if that was my fault,” Kirkwood said. “They said, 'No.' We were coming into the pit; two guys went out in front of me. I had to let them go. He wasn't even in sight for me. So, I think, yeah, they just watched him too early in my mind. But, yeah, nothing I can do about it. I don't think.”
Rossi said, “We had a really strong car. That's obvious with qualifying and Pato's result (second). It got taken away from us in the first stop to no fault of our own. It was an inconsistent ruling from INDYCAR. It was a wasted day for the No. 7 VELO Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, but the car was good, and that's all that matters.”
Rahal Misery at Texas… Again.
A miserable weekend for Graham Rahal was capped off with a vicious crash on Lap 223.
Rahal was mired toward the back of the running order and ticking off laps when he came up on DeFrancesco, who appeared to have a mechanical issue and shot up the track from the apron in Turn 3. With nowhere to go, Rahal collided into the back of DeFrancesco, with the front of Rahal’s No. 15 Fleet Cost and Care Honda getting airborne briefly before settling on the asphalt and hitting the SAFER Barrier.
The suspected mechanical issue for DeFrancesco came after contact with the Turn 2 wall while he tried to pass Rinus VeeKay. It was the second consecutive year both DeFrancesco and Rahal were part of a crash in Turn 3 that ultimately ended in early retirements.
“Yeah, just a tough go again,” Rahal said. “Our setup to start the race is so far out of the window it's just everything I could do to hang on as long as I did. And that put us a couple laps down because it went yellow right after that stop. And then, you know, really in this situation, nothing Devlin did wrong. See a guy on my outside who clearly wasn't looking ahead and can't go out, can't go in.
“Unfortunately, it's just a racing deal. It's unfortunate, but I'm in one piece. I cheated Texas again. We move on to the next one but definitely frustrated. This entire weekend we expected a lot out of the Fleet Cost and Care team, and none of us were in the window at all. And for a team like us, it's absolutely unacceptable.”
DeFrancesco was credited with 23rd, while Rahal finished 24th.
Celebrating Lone Star JR
Among the pre-race festivities were honors for the legendary Johnny Rutherford for his 85th birthday, which was March 12.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner “Lone Star JR” took to the main stage at the start/finish line at Texas Motor Speedway, receiving a colorful and sizeable cake, with fans in attendance singing “Happy Birthday” together to show their appreciation.
Odds and Ends
- VeeKay was the biggest mover in the field, finishing 11th after starting 26th. He earned the Biggest Mover Award, presented by Jostens.
- Newgarden was one of only two drivers, the other being Conor Daly, to make six pit stops.
- Rookie Sting Ray Robb led his first-ever lap in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, doing so on Lap 116.
- The two rounds to start the 2023 season – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding and the PPG 375 – have had five cautions each.
- There have been 14 leaders total through the opening two races, but only Scott Dixon, Grosjean and O’Ward have led laps in each.
- Elliott’s Custom Trailers and Carts has become an official supplier of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the 2023 season. Since 2004, the company – based in Warsaw, Indiana – has supplied clients in Indiana and surrounding states with its E-Z-GO and MADJAX XSeries golf carts and services. Elliott’s also has grown its company into custom trailer sales.