It’s safe to say Josef Newgarden feels like a million bucks after winning the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR on Sunday.
Newgarden drove to his third victory of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet and earned the $1 million PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge bonus. The Challenge rewards the first driver to win on all three types of circuits – road courses, street circuits and oval tracks – in 2022.
The $1 million is shared, with $500,000 going to Team Penske and Nashville-area native Newgarden and $500,000 donated to Newgarden’s chosen charities. Newgarden, who previously won this season on the Texas Motor Speedway oval and the Long Beach street circuit, selected two charities to split the $500,000 portion – SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks Nashville.
“To finally get it done and most importantly to give that money to charity, half of that money is going to charity with SeriousFun Network and Wags and Walks Nashville,” Newgarden said. “I hope they’re happy about it. That’s a lot of money coming their way.
“You’ve got to be on your toes at all times (in this series). You can go in with a plan, but you probably have to change your plan 90 percent of the time once the race starts to unfold. To be able to hit all these disciplines with this team, for me it’s the best series in the world.”
2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson finished second in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, 3.3710 seconds behind Newgarden. It was Ericsson’s fourth consecutive top-seven finish, and he regained the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship lead by 27 points over previous leader Will Power, who finished 19th in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
NTT P1 Award winner Alexander Rossi finished third in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. A second consecutive podium result this month continued a strong surge for Rossi, who has three straight top-five finishes this season.
Romain Grosjean finished fourth in the No. 28 DHL Honda, with teammate Colton Herta rounding out the top five in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda after starting 11th. Andretti Autosport placed three cars in the top five – Rossi, Grosjean and Herta.
Newgarden, who started second, prevailed despite two cautions in the last 10 laps of the race that evaporated his 2.8-second lead over Rossi.
The first restart, on Lap 50, lasted less than half a lap because four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves spun in his No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda exiting the final turn on the uphill climb to the green flag. That bunched the field again on the 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course for a restart on Lap 52, with Newgarden leading Rossi, Ericsson, Herta and Grosjean.
Two-time series champion Newgarden rocketed away from the field on the second restart, just as he did the first. Those rapid restarts built too big of a gap for any challenges, helping Newgarden avoid a repeat of his heartache in last year’s race at Road America, when he lost the lead to Alex Palou due to a mechanical problem on a restart with two laps to go.
Newgarden led a race-high 26 of 55 laps, taking the top spot for good during rivals’ pit stops on Lap 43.
“I was just trying to stay focused on what I had to do,” Newgarden said. “Just an unbelievable job by everybody at Team Penske.”
While Newgarden was locked into a winning groove over the last three laps, a mad scramble for the next four positions unfolded behind him.
Ericsson dove under Rossi in Turn 1 on Lap 53 after the restart to take second. Then Grosjean passed Herta for fourth place while crossing under the flag stand with the white flag unfurled to signal the final lap.
“I tried to be really aggressive on that last restart, and it cost us,” Rossi said. “But we were trying to win the race. But ultimately a good day. Josef certainly had a little better base than us, and it took us until the last stint to dial in the balance of the car.
“We were coming back on him pretty quickly. I don’t think we could have beat him, but all in all, it was a good day.”
The runner-up finish for Ericsson came despite contact with teammate and reigning series champion Palou while racing for third in Turn 5 on Lap 4. Palou finished 27th in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda.
“I just think he was trying to win the race on the third lap, and the car broke and that’s it, game over,” Palou said. “I was surprised that my teammate hit me, not that the car broke. It’s a single-seater, right, so if you have a hard hit it just breaks. We can play this game as well, so we’ll see.”
“First of all, I’m really sorry,” Ericsson said. “You never want to have contact with a teammate. From my point of view, the door was open, and I was already side by side. If you see a gap, you go for it. It’s important at the beginning of the race to get track position.”
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R on Sunday, July 3 (noon ET, NBC, Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Radio Network).