Josef Newgarden wins Grand Prix of St. Pete, but Scott Dixon captures sixth IndyCar title
Josef Newgarden won the NTT IndyCar Series season finale Sunday but came up short of winning the championship as Scott Dixon clinched his sixth title with a third place in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Newgarden led the final 20 laps in his No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet to win at St. Pete for the second consecutive year, holding off a late restart charge by runner-up Pato O’Ward, who tied his career-best finish.
It was the 18th career victory and fourth this season for Newgarden, tying him for the series lead with Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda.
STATS PACKAGE: Full box score and results from the season finale
“I never doubted it, never doubted it,” Dixon radioed his team. “Not with you guys. What a team. Well done. This is all you guys. Thank you.”
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is one championship behind tying AJ Foyt with a record seven.
“Six is good; seven sounds better,” Dixon told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider after Ganassi’s 13th IndyCar championship. “That’s obviously going to be the goal. But it’s tough, as you can see from the competition, even if you mess up just a little bit. We had some problems and just couldn’t piece it together.
“Credit again to the team and just being able to pull ourselves out of that hole and stay consistent and just have a smooth race, and that’s what we did. Credit to Josef, he drove a hell of a race there and put us under a lot of pressure.”
Newgarden came up 16 points short of defending his series championship and earning his third title in four years since joining Team Penske (which notched its 219th IndyCar victory and 10th in 18 races at St. Petersburg).
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” he told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “Congrats to Scott and all the guys on his crew. It’s big time to win six championships. They were a great competitors. On one hand, I don’t know what I’d do different this year or ask my guys to do different. They were flawless. Fastest in the pits all year long.
“I’m extremely proud to drive for my team. We have an incredible crew that puts in a lot of work. We just came up short. We weren’t good enough. We’ll reset and hit them harder next year. I promise we’ll be in the fight every year.”
Sebastien Bourdais finished fourth Sunday, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Newgarden took his first lead on a restart with 20 laps to go, diving beneath Alex Palou and Colton Herta in the first turn to zoom from third to first. He held on from there as the race stayed green after a choppy period of five yellows in 45 laps.
“That played into our favor,” Newgarden said. “We had the flow we needed. We did what we needed to do. We knew coming in that fate wasn’t in our hands. We did what we could and hoped for the best.”
The temporary street course proved treacherous over 100 laps as pole-sitter Will Power and Alexander Rossi -- two of IndyCar’s best on road and street circuits -- were among those who wound up in the wall.
Rossi, who started second, led a race-high 61 laps before losing control of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda in Turn 3.
“Just a human error,” Rossi told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Hugely unfortunate. The 27 guys were phenomenal. Sucks, man. First time it’s happened to me to crash from the lead. I don’t really know what to say. Sorry to the boys, and we’ll come back next year.”
On the ensuing restart, Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe also spun off track as the chaos continued.
Dixon managed to avoid a few anxious moments in traffic after a frenzied Lap 55 restart.
A spate of cautions hit after the race began with 35 green-flag laps.
On a Lap 46 restart, rookie of the year Rinus VeeKay (whose return to Ed Carpenter Racing was announced Sunday morning) collided with Scott McLaughlin, who had made contact with Marco Andretti. It was the IndyCar debut for the three-time Supercars champion, who will move full time next year in the series with Team Penske.
That incident followed a yellow for Santino Ferrucci in Turn 2 after a Lap 40 restart.
The first yellow flew for Power, who started first for a record-extending ninth time on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile layout.
The Team Penske driver began struggling almost immediately with a downshifting problem. He lost power entering Turn 10 on the fifth lap, allowing Rossi to take the lead. Fighting the handling of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet, Power fell two more spots to fourth behind Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe.
On Lap 36, five laps after he’d made his first pit stop, Power skidded into the wall off Turn 4 to bring out the caution flag. He angrily threw his gloves after exiting the cockpit.
“Just a mistake, the car got loose,” Power told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider. “Very frustrating. I shouldn’t be the only one crashing, man. My bad, I put us out of the race. Bad situation.”