Like fireworks on Independence Day, the winless drought for Team Penske ended with a bang. Josef Newgarden absolutely dominated the weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course, capturing the elusive first victory of the season for the powerhouse team. After earning pole position during qualifying yesterday, Newgarden led 73 of the 80 laps on Sunday but had to fend off a late charge in the closing laps of the race.
The challenge came from the rival Chip Ganassi Racing stable but was not six-time winner and six-time series champion Scott Dixon. Marcus Ericsson had an incredible run in the closing laps, finishing runner-up after qualifying 3rd on Saturday. His teammate and championship points leader Alex Palou joined him on the podium. His lead is now 39 points over Pato O’Ward after ten races. It was also his sixth podium of the season, which is the most in the series this season.
Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Box Score
Dixon just narrowly missed his first podium finish since the first race at Texas but didn’t seem to have the capability to get past the others up front. Ganassi now has three drivers in the top five of the championship. Alexander Rossi earned his first top-five of the season, leading the way for Andretti Autosport, who had another miserable afternoon. It all started with contact between two of their drivers on the opening lap, when Ryan Hunter-Reay had to check-up in front of James Hinchcliffe, and the two went spinning off course.
If that weren’t bad enough, the team’s best opportunity to win the race was once again riding with Colton Herta, who started on the front row. After a fueling issue on their first pit stop dropped them from 2nd to 8th, the car stalled upon exit on their next pit stop. Herta fought his way back towards the front then had another incident just before the checkered flag and ultimately finished 13th on Sunday.
Graham Rahal was back at his home track looking for another victory, but it wasn’t in the cards today. Still, he managed to finish 6th to lead the way for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. Romain Grosjean caught some slight damage in the opening-lap incident but still improved from his 18th starting spot to finish in 7th place. O’Ward also sliced his way through the field, improving 12 positions to finish in 8th for the Arrow McLaren SP team.
Santino Ferrucci and Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten on Sunday, giving the RLL three-car effort another solid race weekend heading into the extended break. Simon Pagenaud was another ghost out on the track, only improving one spot from his 15th starting position. His teammate Will Power had even worse luck on Sunday, crashing out of the race after just five laps.
Power was going wheel-to-wheel with Dixon but ran out of real estate when they reached Turn 5. Power felt that Dixon squeezed him and his right-front tire made contact with Dixon’s left rear and the Penske driver spun to a stop on the course. Unfortunately, it was a blind spot for oncoming drivers as they came over the hill and Ed Jones had nowhere to go.
In an interview with NBC, Power said that he hurt his hand but that it was not broken. It was wrapped and he said that he thought he would be able to drive if they were to repair the car but with him essentially out of the championship picture, the No. 12 machine never made it back on the course.
The win is the first for Newgarden and the team since the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg. It also snapped a streak of two straight race weekends of heartbreak for the driver and team. Newgarden has qualified on pole in three straight races, and a fourth would come in his hometown of Nashville next month. This is the 19th career victory for the American and came exactly 50 years after the team’s first victory at Pocono with Mark Donohue.
“I had my wingman, Tim Cindric, coaching me all the way, just making sure I knew what was up. This team has been doing the job. Everyone has been giving me a hard time, asking what’s up with us not winning a race. But I don’t think these people at Team Penske could have done anything different. We’ve been in the game almost every race, had great performance. It’s great to seal a win here finally.”
After ten rounds in the 2021 season, the series will now have some time off before the next event on the 16-race calendar. The next race on the schedule is the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on August 8. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 5:30 PM ET on Sunday.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar