Josef Newgarden scores first victory at Long Beach, holding off Romain Grosjean
LONG BEACH, California -- Josef Newgarden capitalized on a swift pit stop and good strategy, fending off a charge Sunday by Romain Grosjean to win the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, his first NTT IndyCar Series victory on the famed street circuit.
It was the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series victory for the Team Penske driver, who also won at Texas Motor Speedway last month. Penske has opened the 2022 season by winning the first three races (with Scott McLaughlin the victor in the season opener at St. Petersburg) for the first time since the 2012 season.
Newgarden led a race-high 32 of 85 laps in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, cycling ahead of pole-sitter Colton Herta on his first stop. He then took the lead when defending series champion Alex Palou stopped. Newgarden then barely held onto first over Palou after making his second stop on Lap 57.
LONG BEACH BOXSCORE: Click here for where everyone finished Sunday
POINTS, RESULTS: Full statistical rundown of the Grand Prix of Long Beach
“Man, this was a fight today; this was not an easy race to win,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider after his 22nd career victory (which ranks 20th all time on the IndyCar list). “I don’t know if it looked simple from the outside, but I was working my butt off with Grosjean at the end there. I was hoping he would fade a little bit toward the end, just trying to hold him off on the restart was super difficult. This car was on it.
“We knew coming into the race, we have a good strategy, make good fuel, and I had everything I needed with pit stops. Proud of Team Penske. I’ve been trying to win a race here for 11 years. I’m so happy to finally get it done.”
Grosjean, who pulled alongside Newgarden on the final restart with five laps remaining but was unable to complete the pass, finished second and was followed by Palou, Will Power and Pato O’Ward.
It was the first podium at Andretti Autosport for Grosjean, who is in his first full-time IndyCar season and told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that it’s been 3,908 days since his most recent victory (in Formula 2).
“Very close but not close enough,” said Grosjean, who started sixth after a final-round qualifying crash Saturday and had used up all his push-to-pass accelerant before catching Newgarden. “It was fun. We had the right tire strategy. Alex, he did really good braking to defend his position (in second), so I had to wait an extra lap and use another 15 seconds of push to pass.
“Josef made one mistake, but I just couldn’t use it. I have to admit the Chevy engine was fast on the straights, and I couldn’t quite keep up. Very happy with P2 today.”
Palou, who led 22 laps, knew that his Lap 57 battle for the lead with Newgarden (who was on colder tires with less grip) likely would determine the race winner.
“We did a good strategy, went third to first on strategy and pit stops, and the crew did an amazing job,” Palou said. “We were so close. It was a really good pit stop again, but I did the out lap before, and that’s why we came out behind Josef. They did an amazing job. I’m super proud of everybody on the 10 car and everybody at the Chip Ganassi Racing team. Wasn’t our day, we’ll try again at Barber.”
The restart was set up by a caution on Lap 75 after Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 8 in an accident that also collected rookie David Malukas.
It was the third crash of the race weekend for Johnson, who was racing with a carbon fiber splint on the right hand that he fractured in a Friday wreck. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was fine, though, waving to fans of his native Southern California while walking to a safety vehicle.
The tight and treacherous 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course produced its share of incidents and crashes, most notably for the defending race winner.
Pole-sitting race favorite Colton Herta crashed after leading the first 28 laps.
The Santa Clarita, California, native wrecked his No. 26 Dallara-Honda in Turn 9 while pushing on an in-lap into the pits in an incident similar to his crash with a dominant car from the pole position at Nashville last season.
“I just broke a little too late, got in there, locked the right front, and that’s it,” Herta told Snider. “It’s just a stupid mistake. We were definitely in that thing, running good there in third. It’s unfortunate, I feel really bad.”
Herta, who started from the pole of his hometown race for the first time, led the first 28 laps before pitting.
The Andretti Autosport driver emerged from the pits in third behind Palou, who had stopped two laps earlier, and Newgarden, who stopped a lap after Herta.
“I was surprised,” Herta said about the loss of positions. “I didn’t know how that happened. So we’ll have to look a little bit more into that.
“The car was fantastic. My engineer, Nathan, gave me a great car. Yeah, just overdid it a little bit today.”