Normally, when Team Penske experiences deja vu at a racetrack, it is a good thing. The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season has not gone their way though, and today was just another example of that. After earning pole position at Road America yesterday, Josef Newgarden appeared to be the man to beat on Sunday. In another crazy late-race twist, it was Alex Palou that took the checkered flag in Elkhart Lake.
Palou pounced on the final restart as Newgarden suffered a mechanical issue, and went on to lead the final three laps for his second victory of the season. Palou is the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver other than Scott Dixon to win multiple races in a season since Dario Franchitti in 2011. The win also vaulted him back into the championship lead by 28 points with seven races remaining.
REV Group Grand Prix at Road America Box Score
Colton Herta finished where he started, which earned him his second podium of the season. He has now finished inside the top five in each of his last three races at Road America. He has also started on the front row three times, including pole position in his first start during the 2019 season.
Joining them on the podium was Will Power, who earned just his second top-five of the season, and his first since the season-opening race. It is the third podium in the last four races at Road America for Power, who won the 2016 race from pole position. Scott Dixon and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top five on Sunday.
The story of the race was Newgarden, and the hard-luck that Penske has suddenly run into this year. After leading 32 laps on Sunday, it was another disappointing day for the team. Oddly enough, the driver who led the most laps in the last six races has failed to win the race. Last weekend in Detroit, both Power and Newgarden were well on their way to winning a race, only to see it all come crashing down on them.
Newgarden limped the final two trips around the 14-turn, 4.014-mile circuit with his compromised car and ended up a disappointing 21st as the last car on the lead lap. Through nine races this season, Penske has still yet to win a race. “I don’t know what the luck is with our team right now, but with Josef to have a gearbox issue on the last bloody lap, almost the race won, like we were in Detroit, it’s just heartbreaking,” Power said. “I couldn’t believe it when he was pulling off to the side.”
“Down the front straightaway, as soon as I got to fifth gear, I tried to shift to sixth, and it didn’t take the selection, so I was stuck in fifth,” Newgarden said. “I was trying to get it up to sixth gear, and it wouldn’t go. Then I got stuck in fifth in Turn 1. I finally got it to go down, and I just could not get it to upshift after that. I got it to first, essentially and tried to stay out of the way. I’m not sure what happened. Disappointing for all of us. I knew we had a great car all day.”
It was another methodical race for Dixon, who started in 13th after a disappointing day on Saturday. He may not be collecting wins, but this is why he is in championship contention every single year. Dixon’s CGR teammate Marcus Ericsson finished just behind him in 6th after starting in 18th position. Aside from another Jimmie Johnson spin, it was a banner day for Ganassi.
“It always feels awesome even if it’s your lucky day or just because you have really good pace,” Palou said. “We’ve been close. Indy road course, Detroit, Indy 500, and today I was like, ‘Oh, no, we need to get that win.’ A win is a win. It’s always the best thing.”
Alexander Rossi finished 7th on Sunday, as he had several close battles with Grosjean and even a couple of his teammates. Takuma Sato rebounded from an early race penalty and 20th starting position to finish in 8th. Pato O’Ward entered the weekend leading the championship but his 9th place result was good enough to keep him in 2nd heading into Mid-Ohio. Max Chilton rounded out the top ten on Sunday, which was his best finish since an 8th place finish at Watkins Glen in 2017.
Teams and drivers will now have a weekend off before the next event on the 2021 calendar. The next race on the schedule is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 4. NBC will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 12 PM ET on Sunday.