AVONDALE, AZ – You may have seen the videos. Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden battling back-and-forth to “take back the 1” in Pagenaud’s case or “defend the 1” in Newgarden’s. Well, through two races into the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Newgarden is holding the edge of the 2016 season champion.
Newgarden, sits a top the points standings after winning Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix. The Team Penske driver and defending series champion had some great final pit calls to put his No. 1 Chevrolet into victory lane.
On what we thought was going to be the final pit sequence, Newgarden and his strategist Tim Cindric made the call to short pit. It was working all night as getting on fresher Firestone tires made up enough ground on those who stayed out. So, when Sebastien Bourdais pitted from the lead with 44 laps-to-go, Newgarden inherited the lead and was cruising to a win.
But, Ed Jones got into the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 3 bringing out just the second caution of the night. Again, another brilliant pit call by Cindric occurred as despite being in the lead and passing being so difficult on the 1.022-mile track this weekend, they decided to hit pit road for fresh tires.
Robert Wickens, James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi remained on the track and would restart 1-2-3. Newgarden on back had fresh tires.
That set up a thrilling seven lap shootout to the end where Newgarden worked rookie Wickens hard for the top spot. He finally got by with four laps left and cruised to his eighth career victory, third on an oval. It was also his fifth win since joining Penske last year, a feat that is proving a championship caliber one.
Wickens, had to settle for second in his No. 6 Honda. He led 44 laps on the night.
Rossi, would finish third for the second straight race and earn his seventh top six finish over the last eight races dating back to July of last year. But, the podium for the Andretti Autosport driver didn’t come easy. On the first pit sequence, Rossi slid on the concrete surface in his pit box and got into his left front tire changer. He’d come into the pits third and come out 19th. By virtue of that contact, he was penalized and fell a lap down in 21st. Rossi, would fight hard to get his lap back and had the fastest overall car all night.
He’d get his lap back and pass 53 cars in doing so. The next most passes was 24.
Scott Dixon earned his 143rd career top five finish, third most all-time in bringing his No. 9 Honda home fourth. He advanced 13 spots, from his 17th starting spot, most in the field.
Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five in his No. 28 Honda.
The race was chaotic at the beginning when rookie Pietro Fittipaldi crashed on Lap 40. On that ensuing pit stop, it wasn’t just Rossi who had troubles. Leader and pole sitter Bourdais did too, so did second place runner Simon Pagenaud. They’d exit the pits 12th (Pagenaud), 13th (Bourdais) and 19th (Rossi). Bourdais would be penalized like Rossi while Pagenaud wasn’t. He didn’t hit anyone though.
Bourdais, would finish one lap down in 13th while Pagenaud finished 10th.
The series heads to Long Beach next weekend.
Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix
- 1 Newgarden
- 6 Wickens R
- 27 Rossi
- 9 Dixon
- 28 Hunter-Reay
- 5 Hinchcliffe
- 20 Carpenter
- 14 Kanaan
- 15 Rahal
- 22 Pagenaud
- 30 Sato
- 98 Andretti -1
- 18 Bourdais -1
- 21 Pigot R -1
- 88 Chaves -1
- 26 Veach R -1
- 23 Kimball -2
- 59 Chilton -3
- 4 Leist R -9
- 10 Jones OUT
- 32 Kaiser R OUT
- 12 Power OUT
- 19 Fittipaldi R OUT