Newgarden Dominates in INDYCAR Season Opener

Josef Newgarden led 92 of 100 laps at St Petersburg - Penske Entertainment photo
Josef Newgarden led 92 of 100 laps at St Petersburg – Penske Entertainment photo

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES began its 17-race 2024 campaign on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. the weekend of March 8-10, with a 100-lap contest that saw Josef Newgarden dominate from pole to checkered flags, leading the most laps – 92 – and securing his second Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg victory for Team Penske and Chevrolet. In fact, the first four finishers of this race had Chevy power behind them, with Colton Herta of Andretti Global the first Honda-powered Indy car to complete the 100-lap distance.

Pato O’Ward, who recently signed an extension with Arrow McLaren, took second place, albeit 7.9121 seconds behind Newgarden, while Scott McLaughlin brought his Team Penske Chevy home third, followed by Will Power of Team Penske. Fully 20 of the 27 entries were on the lead lap. In a big change from last year’s crash-fest, there were only four retirements and three caution periods for a total of nine laps, making this one of the cleaner St Pete races in the 20-year history of the track.

The St. Pete race has been run by CART, Champ Car, the Indy Racing League and the current INDYCAR group since its inception. The track, which encompasses both city streets and the municipal airport, is truly technical circuit and one that’s invited carnage over the years. This year’s race was fairly clean, with the sole contact noted for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Armstrong, the sophomore driver who is contesting the entire series in 2024 after running only road courses last season. Armstrong contacted the tenth turn’s wall and tried to continue, but came to a rest close to Turn 11 of the 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit.

The second caution came for A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sting Ray Robb, who placed his Chevy-powered Dallara in the first turn’s runoff area, and the cause was given as a mechanical failure. Mechanical issues stopped last year’s winner, Marcus Ericsson, now driving for Andretti Global, on the 52nd lap and also collected Romain Grosjean in Juncos Hollinger’s Chevy-Dallara on the 82nd lap. There were no other retirements.

The third caution flew for Linus Lundqvist, the rookie driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, who was having difficulties from the green flags, incurring a left rear puncture that sent him to the pits on the pace lap after slight contact at the fourth corner. He remained on the lead lap for much of the race and did, in fact finish 23rd, the final car to be running at the close, three laps down.

Newgarden earned his 2nd St Pete victory with ease – Penske Entertainment photo

“I had a lot of fun today,” Nashville, Tenn. native Newgarden said after celebrating with his team in the Winner’s Circle. “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,” he said. Team Penske did win five races last year, including Newgarden’s Indianapolis 500 victory, but only McLaughlin saw victory on a natural road course, at Barber Motorsports Park.

The balance of the top 10 finishers behind Herta were reigning champ Alex Palou, who brought his Chip Ganassi Honda to sixth from a 13th place starting slot, Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi, six-time champ Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay. Of the season’s five rookie drivers, Kyffin Simpson brought his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda home 14th, with Meyer Shank Racing’s Tom Blomqvist 17th, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Christian Rasmussen 21st, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Colin Braun 22nd and Lundqvist 23rd.

The Indy cars are set to travel west to The Thermal Club about an hour east of Palm Springs for the $1 Million Challenge, a special – non-points paying – event set for 12:30PM Sunday, March 24th. That race will air on NBC.

About Anne Proffit 1248 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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