Penske just keeps on winning
The checkered flag has flown on the first race of the 2019 NTT Indycar season and Josef Newgarden found himself in the winner’s circle of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix after a tense race decided as much by strategy as by raw speed. Defending series champion Scott Dixon finished the race in third, followed by pole-sitter Will Power. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist finished in an impressive fourth place in his debut race as a full-time driver. Newgarden’s performance in St. Petersburg continues a string of wins for the Penske racing empire, with Roger Penske’s Australian Supercars team winning the first two races of its season, as well as two wins in three races for Penske’s NASCAR team.
Newgarden started the race on the front row alongside pole-sitter Will Power, with Ganassi teammates Dixon and Rosenqvist on the second row. Power got a much better start to begin the race and quickly grew a 1-2 second lead while Newgarden was passed for second place by Rosenqvist. Power and Rosenqvist quickly built a sizable gap back to the rest of the field before Ryan Hunter-Reay had to retire from the race on lap 20 with an engine failure, bringing out a full-course caution. When the race went back to green on lap 24 Rosenqvist got a better run into turn 1 and overtook Power for the lead. Another caution on lap 26 from an incident involving Matheus Leist and Ed Jones brought another restart and more of the same with Rosenqvist maintaining the lead over Will Power.
Power came in for a pit stop at the beginning of lap 51 and Rosenqvist followed suit at the end of that same lap. Will Power used his fresh tires to undercut Rosenqvist and the two were neck and neck as Rosenqvist left the pits. After a near collision Power took the lead and found himself caught behind the slower Spencer Pigot and Marco Andretti soon after. Meanwhile, Newgarden made his pit stop on lap 55 and came out ahead of the traffic-jammed Will Power to take the lead of the race. Scott Dixon also used the traffic to come out of the pits ahead of Rosenqvist and then caught up to and passed Power on lap 60. Newgarden, Dixon, Power and Rosenqvist maintained these positions to the end of the race. Dixon tried to challenge Newgarden in the final laps of the race but wasn’t able to catch up in time.
Ultimately it was pit strategy that allowed Newgarden to gain the upper hand over Will Power who had at that point dominated the race. Newgarden was quick to recognize the role his team played in the win in a post-race interview, saying “so thankful to our group, we have the best of the best at Team Penske”. Newgarden led 60 laps by the end of the race, the most of any driver, and also had the fastest lap of the race. Newgarden’s win plus his fastest lap and laps-led bonuses give the Penske driver a 13 point advantage over Dixon heading into the next race at Circuit of The Americas on March 24th. Newgarden will need all of the points he can get if he wants to reclaim his title from the 5-time champion Dixon.