While some will consider Josef Newgarden’s victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama as “lucky,” that may be too simple a view.
Although his Team Penske teammate Will Power was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop with 14 laps remaining, Newgarden applied pressure to the road racing ace and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series field all race long. After qualifying seventh, the Tennessee-native quickly gained ground in the opening stint, moving to second-place after the initial pit cycle.
A sign of a potential win developed during the second stint, when Newgarden held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on worn red tires. Even though Power dominated the laps led statistic at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday, the Australian never secured a comfortable advantage on his teammate.
Despite losing track position to Dixon during the final round of stops, Newgarden quickly regained second with a clever inside pass at Turn 16. Once Power was forced to give way, Newgarden once again dueled with the New Zealander, who despite holding a significant advantage in terms of push to pass time, was never able to mount a serious challenge to take away the top spot.
“This is a good one to have, I think we earned it,” said Newgarden, who won his first IndyCar race at Barber in 2015. “This was a great car this weekend. We were on it.
“I think it was shaping up to be a really great battle for me, Dixon and Will, and it ended just being between Dixon and me. I feel bad for Will. I wish he could have been in that with us, but sometimes that’s the way it rolls.”
With Newgarden securing his first IndyCar win with Team Penske in only his first third start, a feat defending series champion Simon Pagenaud could not achieve in 2015, the future outlook is intriguing.
“You certainly hope you can win early and win often,” said Newgarden. “I think my goal was to maximize our potential, my potential in the team as early as that could be.
“It’s not easy, you know, integrating into a new group. It’s been pretty fluid for me just because Team Penske is a very easy group to join, I find. They’re very open, welcoming, there’s so much information to look at, the teammates are so good, it helps you kind of get on pace pretty quick.”
With two of the next three IndyCar events on ovals, the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet certainly has a chance to add to his four career wins. The opportunity to contend for a championship is also added to the mix; Sunday’s triumph moved the Tennessean to third in the series points standings. It is not to say that the first American IndyCar driver for Team Penske since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2007 is destined to match or exceed the achievements of the greatest pilots the Captain has ever employed. But, the early success certainly is a promising trend.
The question regarding how good Team Penske is with Newgarden added was also answered on Sunday. Despite securing the top-three starting positions, it was Newgarden who secured the victory. Considering the former Sarah Fisher Racing prospect did not make the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday has to be a concerning sign for the rest of IndyCar’s lineup.
While it is not a lock that Team Penske will win 12 races as it did in 2016, it could become possible if Chevrolet can bridge a gap Honda showed at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. If this difference is lessened further or even flips in favor of the General Motors manufacturer by the Indianapolis 500, not only the 17th win for Roger Penske appears possible, it could be in the form this team showed in 1988 and 1994. In those years, victory was never in doubt; the only unknown was which driver would add his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Next week’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix could ultimately set the course for next month’s festivities. Another triumph could raise the likelihood of the above occurring not just for Josef Newgarden, but the other four Team Penske members who will be present at the Brickyard.
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