Josef Newgarden raced on cruise control in today's completion of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America's First. Even a return of rain late in the race didn't prevent the Team Penske driver from collecting his third Verizon IndyCar Series win at Barber Motorsports Park in the past four years.
Newgarden drove the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to a 9.9607-second victory at the hilly 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course, despite increasingly treacherous track conditions as rain that caused the race to be suspended after 22 laps on Sunday reappeared for the final 15 laps today.
"More hectic than you would want at the end," Newgarden admitted. "It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren't having yellows, it was dry, then that rain made it very nerve-racking."
The victory was the ninth of Newgarden's six-year Verizon IndyCar Series career. All the wins have come since 2015, including his maiden triumph at Barber that same year. It was also the sixth Team Penske win in nine Barber races and the 199th overall Indy car win for the historic team.
The race picked up today from where it was halted by heavy rain and flooded track conditions on Sunday. Newgarden, who started from the pole position and was still in first place for the restart, quickly pulled away from the field in cloudy but dry conditions. The Tennessee native built a commanding 25-second lead over Sebastien Bourdais when rain began falling around the circuit on Lap 66.
Newgarden was the first driver opting to pit for Firestone rain tires on Lap 71, surrendering the lead to Bourdais.
"I think for us we did the only thing we could," the reigning series champion said. "We went to rain (tires) as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we're in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.
"Fortunately, the weather cooperated with what we needed, and I think that's ultimately what got it done."
Hoping to make it to the end on the slick dry-condition tires, Bourdais stayed out as long as possible in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda. But the precipitation increased and the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver was forced to stop for rain tires on Lap 76. Bourdais finished fifth.
"Josef went for the push and it looked like we were still going to beat him because he pitted (for rain tires) and we got ahead," Bourdais said. "I had enough fuel to finish, but unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to open the skies and there wasn't anything we could do about that. We tried to stay out and it bit us.
"Unfortunately, you can't predict what the weather is going to do, so you have to make a call one way or the other and we were on the wrong side of the fence today."
Once Bourdais pitted, Newgarden reclaimed the lead and drove comfortably to the checkered flag on Lap 82. Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
"With the rain coming, I could see the clouds coming, the moisture starting to accumulate on the visor, (the car) sliding around a little bit," Hunter-Reay said following his 39th career podium finish and first of 2018. "The key there was trying to pit (for rain tires) at the right time, not too early to where you burn the fronts off and not too late to where you'd be sliding around too much on slicks.
"We were coming there at the end. I think we had really good rain pace, catching Newgarden by a bunch every lap, but just a little too late. All in all, a good weekend. Drama-free for us, so nice."
James Hinchcliffe finished third - the Canadian's best Barber finish in eight starts - in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda.
With the win, Newgarden recaptured the championship lead after four of 17 races. He has 158 points, 13 more than Alexander Rossi, who gambled longest on slick tires and finished 11th today in the No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda for Andretti Autosport. Bourdais is third with 119 points, the same number as Graham Rahal, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver who finished seventh today. Bourdais holds the tiebreaker based on his win in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.
The initial four laps of today's restart were run under full-course caution behind the pace car, but once the green flag waved on Lap 27, the remainder ran without a yellow flag. The race ended eight laps shy of its originally scheduled 90 laps due to the two-hour time limit split over the two days.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now turns its attention to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the monumental month of May. Most drivers and teams will participate in testing on the iconic 2.5-mile oval from April 30-May 2 in preparation for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27 (11 a.m. ET, ABC). Prior to that comes the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, set for Saturday, May 12 (3:30 p.m., ABC).
Results Monday of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 82, Running
2. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 82, Running
3. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 82, Running
4. (10) Robert Wickens, Honda, 82, Running
5. (3) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 82, Running
6. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 82, Running
7. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 82, Running
8. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 82, Running
9. (9) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 82, Running
10. (7) Marco Andretti, Honda, 82, Running
11. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 82, Running
12. (21) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 82, Running
13. (11) Zach Veach, Honda, 82, Running
14. (19) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 82, Running
15. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 81, Running
16. (22) Rene Binder, Chevrolet, 80, Running
17. (20) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 80, Running
18. (23) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 80, Running
19. (16) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 80, Running
20. (12) Ed Jones, Honda, 64, Mechanical
21. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 53, Off Course
22. (13) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 34, Mechanical
23. (14) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 10, Contact
Winner's average speed: 93.335 mph
Time of Race: 2:01:14.4486
Margin of victory: 9.9607 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 14 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 2 drivers
Newgarden, Josef 1 - 49
Bourdais, Sebastien 50 - 54
Newgarden, Josef 55 - 71
Bourdais, Sebastien 72 - 75
Newgarden, Josef 76 - 82
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 158, Rossi 145, Bourdais 119, Rahal 119, Hinchcliffe 118, Hunter-Reay 113, Dixon 107, Wickens 97, Andretti 88, Power 81.
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Driver Quotes:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2018 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner): "That was more eventful than I would have liked. But everybody did a great job. How about Team Chevy today - they gave us a great engine, good fuel mileage and good reliability, and that's what we needed to win this race. It's great having Hitachi - we got Verizon a victory, now we got Hitachi a victory, so thank you guys. Everyone at Team Penske did a great job, but like I said, that was more eventful than I wanted it. It would seem like smooth sailing for the most part, we didn't have any yellows, which we were hoping no yellows today, but then the rain crept in. I couldn't believe how long everyone stayed out. It was really risky what they were doing, but I understand why there were doing it. I'm glad we made the call to come in so soon."
MATHEUS "MATT" LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "We made some great progress from where we started the weekend, so I'm pretty happy with that. The car was good with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the race, so I think we had good pace. We were running with (Simon) Pagenaud, and when (Scott) Dixon came in front of me he was not that much faster, which means we made some progress from practice. Unfortunately in the rain, the car wasn't as good, we were struggling with understeer, so I couldn't push as I wanted. If we look at where we started and where we finished, it was a good weekend. I'm happy for the ABC Supply team and myself. Onto Indianapolis."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): "I feel bad for the fans as much as anything. We were driving around out there, and it's like, 'Right guys its getting wetter, it's getting wetter....' 'Wet enough for rains?' 'Nah, not wet enough for rains...' 'Wet enough for rains?' 'Nah...' 'Pit for rains.' 'Are you guys sure?' It was the right call for sure, so big props to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys; solid weekend for us in the end. As I said before, not a great test here, but two cars in the top 10 after qualifying and then two cars in the top five in the race, so pretty proud of these boys and everyone on the Arrow Electronics car. It's good to get a couple of Hondas up there, maybe not on the top step of the podium, but we took the rest of it."
ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): "I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint, so once (Scott) Dixon started getting close to me, I was thinking I might have to give this position up. Then the rain came, so the fuel mileage kind of happened naturally. The rain saved us a bit, but overall great job by the Lucas Oil guys. I was a little gutted that we came out into a big bunch of traffic, but it made the race fun. It was also a little bit frustrating as we lost a bit of track position there, and I think we could have both been fighting for higher steps on the podium today."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "I think I was one of the drivers on the fence in regards to if we should restart or not yesterday. I guess overall, it was the same for everyone. I literally couldn't see a thing from the PNC Bank car and was just trying to hold it straight. Cars were just going by me, and there was nothing you could do because I couldn't see anything out of my visor. It's a shame we couldn't get in the full distance Sunday because Barber is an amazing track with an incredible crowd. I think the one-stop strategy was the one to have today and it would have put us third, but the rain took care of that, unfortunately. The car was fast and really good on fuel mileage, but it is what it is. Hopefully we can get a break to go our way in a few weeks."
ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Yesterday at the start, I was trying to attack, but it was very difficult. I just couldn't see anything. Especially on the restarts. Maybe I could have been more aggressive or kept my foot down, but I didn't think it was worth the risk in the NTT DATA car. Conditions were just very, very tough. You couldn't see a thing. Today we got restarted and we were making progress, but we had mechanical issues and had to pit way before it was over. The guys will have to take a look at the car to see what happened I think. Hopefully we can move on and have a good start to the month of May in Indy."
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "We had a very difficult weekend and I'm glad it's over. Looking forward to Indianapolis."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): "In the dry, we were able to make some moves and get by some guys, and turn in some good laps when we needed to before the pit stops and cycle out to a pretty good spot. Overall, it was a decent day. I can't say too much bad about it. I'll take seventh. We lost some ground to a few of the guys ahead, but overall it's good to be third in points."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): "It was just a tough day for the SealMaster Honda No. 18 team. It was looking perfect. We executed the plan to perfection. I started on scuffed Firestone red (alternate) tires, so we had a lot of tire degradation, but were still able to save more fuel than almost everyone. Josef (Newgarden) went for the push and it looked like we were still going to beat him because he pitted the second time and we got ahead. I had enough fuel to finish, but unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to open the skies and there wasn't anything we could do about that. We tried to stay out and it bit us. On top of that, when we put on the wet tires, I don't know what happened but the car was diabolical. I couldn't do anything. I barely kept Scott (Dixon) behind me. I gave it my best shot, the guys did a good job, but it wasn't enough. Everyone is executing perfectly. Unfortunately, you can't predict what the weather is going to do, so you have to make a call one way or the other and we were on the wrong side of the fence today. The good news is we finished fifth and keep putting ourselves in position. Our pace is good and we are in the championship mix."
ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): "Yesterday was tough with all the rain, and I think it was a good call to postpone the race to today. With the two-lap penalty that we received yesterday, we knew we were already at a disadvantage. So, the main goal today was to show my race craft aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car, show that my pace was there and to show that if we would have been on the lead lap that we could have definitely fought for a top 10 position. I think we did that with how I was able to pass other cars on a track that is known to be difficult for passing. We had good pace, and the fastest race lap, so it was a positive weekend overall even if it didn't go our way."
JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "I had a really good restart. I did exactly what I wanted to do, I wanted to dispatch a couple of cars quite quickly. I managed to get past both Ed (Jones) and Scott (Dixon) before Turn 2, so that was really good actually. That gave me good track position, we were then in the top five. Unfortunately, the rain yesterday may have caused an electrical problem that took quite a while to clear. Once we got going, it was then alright. Our strategy was then compromised with the rain and we were caught out. Overall slightly annoying, we really would have been fine for a top-five finish quite comfortably, I think."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "It was definitely a difficult race out there. We thought we were making up some ground by pitting early and running hard, which seemed to be working a bit. We tried to gamble at the end to stay on slicks. We were hoping for a yellow that the race would end under and we could stay up where we were. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and I just tried to keep it on the road the best I could. Eventually, it just got too wet and we had to come in at the end. There are some positives to take away from this weekend, we're going to take those into the INDYCAR Grand Prix and hopefully be back up front."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "We had a pretty good race going and I think we potentially could have been a top five (finisher). So, I was very frustrated with Gabby (Chavez). He was two laps down. And I just got stuck behind him, which gave an opportunity to (Scott) Dixon as I was trying everything I could to make it happen. But, it's a real shame because when it's not your day, it's just not your day. You'll have better days later, but you won't have everybody on your side when you have a good day. And at the moment, he doesn't have me on his side, let me tell you. But, it's a real shame. I think the Menards No. 22 was really from where we started. The strategy to go on rain (tires) when we went on rain was a good choice and I thought it was a really good pace. We just started from too far back."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet - quote given Saturday): "The No. 10 car of Ed Jones just drove into the back of me. The stewards reviewed it and decided that no action would be taken, which I vehemently disagree with. Yeah, visibility was tough out there, but it was tough for everyone. I didn't run into anyone and no one else ran into me, except for the No. 10 car. I don't know what the stewards were looking at, but I'm going to have a discussion with them after the race. I'm just disappointed because the Carlin guys know how to run in the wet and they gave me a great car. We were moving up the field a few spots, and with the Marco (Andretti) spin, we were able to elevate another spot. We were just knocking on the door of making it into the top 10 and coming out of here in these conditions with a top-10 result heading into May would've been really good for the team."
ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): "The weekend overall was good for us, confidence-wise - advancing to the top 12 in qualifying and getting up to position sixth yesterday for the first part of the race. Today, I think we definitely had the pace to finish inside the top 10, but we had a few mechanical issues during the race. I lost all of my adjustments inside of the car, so once that happened I was a sitting duck. Extremely thankful for my Group One Thousand One crew for the job they did this weekend. We held on the best we could to come home 13th. Hopefully we can improve for the (INDYCAR Grand Prix) and of course build on everything in time for the Indianapolis 500."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda): "It definitely wasn't our best day. We initially went into the race with the plan of doing a two-stopper, then we switched to a one-stop strategy once the race started because of the extra formation laps. Once the race got going, we were on the wrong tire for the one-stop plan, and couldn't make the fuel work, so we switched back to a two-stop strategy. It was looking OK, but we tried to survive the rain probably one lap too long and we lost time to guys that had already switched to rain tires. We ended up 11th. It wasn't a great day from a performance or strategy standpoint. It's a day that we'll certainly be putting behind us as soon as possible and look forward to (the INDYCAR Grand Prix) where we had a really strong test a couple weeks ago."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "It was a good race, it was tough getting the fuel number and trying to keep the pace up, but it was a lot of fun when it started raining, trying to find the grip again and searching around. I was almost worried that I was going to burn the front (tires) off. We came in early for the wet (tires). I stayed out there as long as I could, but on the slicks, I was a lot quicker and it was that inconsistent snap that you have. When you have one of those (snaps) with the slicks you can absolutely lose it completely, so we thought that was the best time to come in and grab the Firestone wets. It was good from there. I just needed a little bit more time to cut in on (Josef) Newgarden's lead. Congratulations to Team Penske and (Josef) Newgarden. Great job by the DHL guys this weekend. We rolled off the truck, we weren't that happy with the car and we kept working on it methodically, chipping into it and everybody just executed it - so a good weekend overall."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): "We tried a one-stop strategy, and basically everyone else was on two-stoppers, so we looked like we lacked pace, but we had to save a massive amount of fuel. It looked good until the middle. My teammate came on charge and was on a hard two-stopper, so I let him go and lost some positions a couple of times, but then it looked good. If the yellow came, we would have been in a very positive position. Even not, a lot of people had to come into the pits. However, unfortunately the rain came and I had to stop again for rain tires, which meant my second stint was basically just a slow pace. It's a big shame. The rain helped me a lot yesterday to get to eighth and today, in the end, the rain didn't help my strategy. I will take it after a difficult qualifying. We need to make the car fast at the (INDYCAR) Grand Prix because we have a lot of work to be done."
MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): "That was a really unfortunate way for us to end the weekend. We were happy with the qualifying effort of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet and felt like we were making progress, but after the race was red-flagged and everyone was allowed to start on full fuel, we knew we were going to have a hard time doing much strategy-wise to move toward the front. Unfortunately for us, we didn't get a chance to see what we could do during the remainder of the race because of an electrical issue that had us stopped on track before the field went green. The boys had it fixed and back out on track, but once we had confirmed the issue was fixed out on track and the heavy rain picked back up again, there was no point in us continuing and possibly tearing anything up."
GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): "Today's conditions were not ideal for us to start. Our strategy we used yesterday to hope for a yellow to get our lap back obviously never came. We just did more to learn, try to gauge our pace and try to keep improving. I thought we really improved on our pace compared to everyone else and we did well to pick up a few positions at the end of the day and brought the car home. Now we get to work on our most important month of the year."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): "It was a lot of fun out there, but I think finishing 10th is the worst we should've finished. I think myself and the guys earned a third-place finish. We beat (James Hinchcliffe) out in the end - so we had third locked up until the rain made all the one-stoppers work. We were looking really good for a podium; the Kerauno team was way better than what the race results showed, but we know we have the pace, so we'll keep digging and move on to Indy."