When Josef Newgarden ran longer, harder and faster in a middle stint of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it paid off with victory at the end.
Newgarden kicked off the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season victorious by 2.8998 seconds over reigning series champion Scott Dixon. It was the 11th triumph of Newgarden's eight-year NTT IndyCar Series career but first on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course that incorporates a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.
"I feel like we executed today," Newgarden said. "We were very patient in the beginning of the race. We had a right-to-left, different tire strategy again today, and it really paid off. I actually think it's what helped us create the opportunity.
"We found our footing (in Saturday qualifying) and finished it off right today."
The win by Newgarden extended Team Penske's run of success at St. Petersburg to nine victories in the event's 16-race history. It was also the 204th win all time by the Indy car team, most in the sport, and returned Chevrolet atop the podium after the engine supplier went winless on temporary street circuits last season.
Newgarden started the 110-lap race second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet behind teammate and NTT P1 Award pole sitter Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Content to run in the top three early on, Newgarden made the decisive move by extending his second race stint one to five laps longer than the other frontrunners. It allowed the Tennessean to lay down key quicker laps on an open track, so that when he pitted for fuel and tires on Lap 55, Newgarden returned to the action in first place and on a new set of Firestone alternate tires while his nearest competitors were on the harder primary tires.
The 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion led 59 of the final 60 laps, pushing the advantage to more than seven seconds before Dixon trimmed the gap near the finish.
"When we went out on brand new reds (alternate tires), we were able to open up a huge chunk," Newgarden said. "It was just really good timing and positioning, and once we established that gap, it was about managing it, really. We didn't have to blow it wide open and we didn't need to see it shrink too quickly, but we let it seesaw back and forth how it needed to."
Dixon finished second at St. Pete for the fourth time and has never won the race in 15 tries. The five-time series champion, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, has 41 second-place results in a 19-year career, tying him for second on the all-time race runner-up list with Helio Castroneves. Mario Andretti is first with 56 second-place finishes.
"All in all, a great day for the whole PNC Bank crew," Dixon said. "Pit stops were phenomenal, great points. Obviously, we were going for a win so we just came one stop short, but congrats to Josef. (He) drove a hell of a race there and great strategy."
Power led 17 early laps before finishing third. It's the 71st time the 2014 series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner has been on the podium in a 15-year career.
"Definitely a lot better points here than I've done in the past two years, so I'm really happy about that," said Power, who finished 10th last year at St. Pete, 19th in 2017 and didn't race in 2016 due to illness. "We put ourselves in a really tough position pitting early there.
"I just kind of did my best to maintain a third-place finish. I got more points than the last two years so we're in the game (for the championship)."
Felix Rosenqvist, making his first NTT IndyCar Series start in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, placed fourth after leading 31 early laps. Rosenqvist was among three rookies to finish in the top 10, with Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) eighth and Santino Ferrucci (Dale Coyne Racing) ninth.
"It's a lot to take in," Rosenqvist said. "I'm worn out. These cars are tough to drive. I've never driven anything like it, but it's a dream come true just to be here."
"We have a lot to work on," he added. "I think I underestimated how much the track grips up. Still a lot of things to learn, but P4 is a great way to start."
The race was slowed by two early full-course caution periods, tying for the fewest in race history. The first came on Lap 20 when Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered a mechanical failure in the No. 28 DHL Honda on the frontstretch.
The second caution occurred on Lap 26 when Ed Jones hit the wall in Turn 9 in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Chevrolet and Matheus Leist clipped Jones' car while racing past in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Both cars were eliminated in the incident and Jones sustained a small non-displaced fracture of the distal fourth metacarpal in his left ring finger, according to Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director. Jones had the finger splinted and is scheduled to see a hand surgeon, but it is expected that proper splinting will permit him to continue participating in racing activities.
Sunday's race is the first of a diverse and demanding 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule this season. Newgarden takes a 13-point lead over Dixon to the next event, the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 24. The race airs live at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
VeeKay captures first Indy Lights win
Rinus VeeKay, who advanced this season to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires after winning the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires, collected his first Indy Lights win Sunday at St. Petersburg in the second race of the weekend doubleheader.
VeeKay, driving for the same Juncos Racing team that guided him to the Indy Pro 2000 title, defeated first-race winner Zachary Claman (Belardi Auto Racing) by 0.6328 of a second. VeeKay became the seventh driver to win at all three levels of the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder.
Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg race results
Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile Streets of St. Petersburg, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running
2. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running
3. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 110, Running
4. (3) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 110, Running
5. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 110, Running
6. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 110, Running
7. (13) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 110, Running
8. (11) Colton Herta, Honda, 110, Running
9. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 110, Running
10. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 110, Running
11. (16) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 110, Running
12. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 109, Running
13. (17) Marco Andretti, Honda, 109, Running
14. (14) Zach Veach, Honda, 109, Running
15. (21) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 109, Running
16. (24) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 109, Running
17. (8) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 109, Running
18. (12) Ben Hanley, Chevrolet, 108, Running
19. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 75, Mechanical
20. (18) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 54, Mechanical
21. (15) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 25, Contact
22. (22) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 25, Contact
23. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 19, Mechanical
24. (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 11, Mechanical
Winner's average speed: 95.572 mph
Time of Race: 2:04:18.2588
Margin of victory: 2.8998 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 11 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 4 drivers
Power, Will 1 - 12
Rosenqvist, Felix 13 - 15
Newgarden, Josef 16
Rossi, Alexander 17 - 18
Power, Will 19 - 23
Rosenqvist, Felix 24 - 50
Newgarden, Josef 51 - 79
Rosenqvist, Felix 80
Newgarden, Josef 81 - 110
NTT IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 53, Dixon 40, Power 37, Rosenqvist 33, Rossi 31, Hinchcliffe 28, Pagenaud 26, Herta 24, Ferrucci 22, Harvey 20.