The Team Penske train keeps on rolling. Roger Penske’s team remains perfect through three races this season, as Josef Newgarden won back-to-back races for the first time since 2017. The two-time series champion earned a crown jewel today on the historic streets of Long Beach, leading a race-high 32 laps on his way to victory.
“Man, this was a fight today. This was not an easy race to win,” Newgarden said in victory lane. “I don’t know if it looked simple from the outside, but I was working my butt off with Grosjean at the end there. I was hoping he would fade a little bit toward the end, just trying to hold him off on the restart was super difficult. This car was on it.”
“We knew coming into the race, we have a good strategy, make good fuel, and I had everything I needed with pit stops. Proud of Team Penske. I’ve been trying to win a race here for 11 years. I’m so happy to finally get it done.” While he acknowledged that the team is on a roll, he knows it is still too early to count their eggs.
“It’s too early to say, it’s only three races in. We could have a horrible rest of the year,” Newgarden said. “I’m feeling positive about where we’re going, but we have a long way to go. Indianapolis is where we need to perform at Team Penske and we know that. So let’s see what we do in the month of May.”
After failing to win a race through the first eight events last year, Penske has now won all three races to start this season. Newgarden takes over the lead in the championship, just five points ahead of his teammate Scott McLaughlin, who won the season-opening race at St Petersburg.
This was the 22nd career win for Newgarden, but Romain Grosjean very nearly got the first of his career. The Andretti Autosport driver was battling Josef for the lead in the closing laps, but was not able to get around the No. 2 Chevrolet. It was quite entertaining as the two raced each other clean all the way to the end.
“Very close, but not close enough,” Grosjean said. “That was fun. With the right tire strategy and with the last caution, I thought it was going to be great. He did one mistake, but I just couldn’t use it.”
Alex Palou joined Newgarden and Grosjean on the podium. The reigning series champion made it a Penske/Andretti/Ganassi podium, leading the way for Chip Ganassi. The driver of the No. 10 Honda took over the lead during the first round of pit stops, led 22 laps, and stayed near the front all afternoon. Will Power and Pato O’Ward rounded out the top five on Sunday.
“We did a good strategy,” Palou said. “We went from third to first on strategy, and then we were so close. It was a good pit stop again, but I did the out lap a bit poorly, that’s how Newgarden came out ahead. The team did an amazing job. It was not our day, but we’ll try again at Barber.”
Defending Long Beach race winner Colton Herta looked like he would go back-to-back after starting from pole position and leading the first 28 laps of the race. The driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda was pushing hard on Lap 56 before making his final scheduled pit stop, but went a little too deep in Turn 9 and smacked the concrete barrier.
The incident was eerily similar to what happened to him in the race at Nashville last season. “I just braked a little bit too late,” said Herta. “Got in there, locked the right-front and that was it. It’s just a stupid mistake. We were definitely in that thing, we were running good there in third and keeping up with Alex and Josef. It’s unfortunate, I feel really bad.”
After starting 16th, Scott Dixon used some Dixon magic to work his way to the front and held on for a solid 6th place finish, despite running into the back of his wrecked teammate in the final laps of the race. Graham Rahal was the lone bright spot for RLL Racing on Sunday, earning a 7th place finish for the team.
Alexander Rossi finished 8th in his 100th career IndyCar start. Early in the race he made a daring pass on Felix Rosenqvist for 4th position, but he wasn’t able to stay at the front of the field. A hiccup on his right-rear tire during a late pit stop ultimately took him out of contention for the win. Still, it was a much better day than he has had in recent years.
“Silver lining of the day is that we finished and we finished in a position that has one digit instead of two,” said Rossi. “The car was good all weekend but we struggled a little bit with the tires in the first stint. The team did a great job with strategy. The pace on the Firestone reds was good as well but we, unfortunately, lost some time in pit lane which makes for track position in IndyCar these days.”
While Palou and Dixon were the stars for Ganassi in the box score, it was Marcus Ericsson who may have been the best of the bunch this weekend. The driver of the No. 8 Honda was running in 3rd position when the rear end stepped out and he slapped the concrete barrier with just 19 laps remaining.
It was a rough weekend for McLaughlin, who missed the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday, needed an engine change before the race this morning, clipped the concrete barrier in the hairpin, then suffered damage in a multi-car incident late in the race when Simon Pagenaud got turned around near the fountain.
With three events in the books, the next race on the calendar comes in the month of May. There will be plenty of action before then, as nearly every team and driver will hit the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a two-day open test beginning on April 20. Peacock will provide streaming coverage of the event.
In terms of the next race, that will come at Barber Motorsports Park in three weeks. Coverage for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 1 PM ET on NBC.