It’s All Newgarden In St. Petersburg IndyCar Opener

Newgarden

Josef Newgarden in action on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (James Black/Penske Entertainment photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As season openers go, Sunday’s romp on the streets of St. Petersburg couldn’t have gone much more smoothly for Josef Newgarden.

Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Newgarden won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Sunday, driving the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet to a 7.9121-second victory over the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet of runner-up Pato O’Ward.

On a sun-splashed afternoon and in front of a capacity crowd, which included Grammy Award-winning Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jon Bon Jovi and rock icon and reality television star Bret Michaels, Newgarden led 92 of 100 laps after capturing the NTT P1 Award on Saturday, earning his 30th career Indy car victory.

That broke a tie with Team Penske legend Rick Mears for 13th on the all-time win list. Nashville native Newgarden also turned the quickest lap of the race.

“I had a lot of fun today,” Newgarden said. “I think it’s so deserving for the work they (Team Penske) put in. We’ve worked really hard to close the gap. We didn’t have the speed we needed on road and street courses last year, at least on a consistency basis, and today we brought that speed.

“We had the execution, as always.”

Team Penske won five races last year but just one outside of an oval, that being Scott McLaughlin’s victory on the natural road course at Barber Motorsports Park.

The victory Sunday was the pinnacle of an outstanding opening weekend for Team Penske on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.

McLaughlin finished third in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Chevrolet, while two-time series champion Will Power placed fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet to give the legendary team three of the top four finishing positions.

Colton Herta rounded out the top five in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda fielded by Andretti Global. Two-time and reigning series champion Alex Palou climbed from 13th at the start to finish sixth in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Newgarden led from the drop of the green flag and started to ease away from the rest of the 27-car field.

However, his gap evaporated on lap 27 when Marcus Armstrong locked up under braking in turn 10, sending his No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda into the wall and triggering the first of three caution periods in the race.

Christian Lundgaard took the lead during the caution period when he didn’t pit, due to an early stop to replace a flat tire on his No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Lundgaard kept the top spot, with Newgarden second, from the restart on lap 29 until Lundgaard pitted at the end of lap 36 under the second caution.

From there, Newgarden faced little challenge from O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM of Meyer Shank Racing, and McLaughlin on the restart on lap 38.

He stayed out front, slowly building his lead, until making his final stop at the end of lap 65 and handing the lead to Herta.

Herta was out front for only one lap before pitting, cycling Newgarden back to the lead for good on lap 67.

The field got one more chance to jump Newgarden on a restart when Linus Lundqvist backed into the tire barrier in turn 10 on lap 69, after a nudge from Romain Grosjean in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet. Grosjean received a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

But as he did in the two prior restarts, Newgarden rocketed away from O’Ward and Herta when the green flag flew on lap 72.

“I think it's a very solid foundation to what is going to be a very tight, very competitive rest of the year,” said runner-up O’Ward. “I think the Penskes were just too strong for us today.”

The deck shuffled a bit over the final 29 laps, as McLaughlin, Power and Palou were particularly fast in gaining positions in the running order.

Just like the rest of the race, however, Newgarden was in his own world of speed in the final run to the finish and cruised to victory.

“I feel very relaxed right now,” Newgarden said. “I was really excited initially, and then it kind of calmed down those last 10 laps. We can move on from here and at least enjoy this first victory.”

Kyffin Simpson was the best finisher among the five series rookies in the field, placing 14th in the No. 4 Journie Rewards Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

The next NTT IndyCar Series event is The $1 Million Challenge, a special, non-points race at 12:30 p.m. ET on March 24 at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, Calif.

Broadcast coverage of the event will air on NBC, Peacock, and the IndyCar Radio Network.

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