Josef Newgarden boosts IndyCar title hopes with win at WWT Raceway Gateway
On a night that saw over a third of the field eliminated by wrecks and mechanical failures - including two NTT IndyCar Series title contenders - Josef Newgarden took his second win of the season in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway Gateway near St. Louis.
With the victory, Newgarden cut his deficit in the championship by more than half after entering Saturday’s race 55 points behind Alex Palou. Newgarden now is 22 points behind new points leader Pato O’Ward, who was the runner-up to the Team Penske driver for the second consecutive season at Gateway.
“It’s big,” Newgarden told NBCSN after his third career victory at WWT’s 1.25-mile short oval. “Any win is important for the year. I wish we had a couple more up to this point and were in a different position, but we’ve always got to fight with where we’re at and what we’ve got in our hands.
“I just always have faith that we can win a race.”
O’Ward finished second after being unable to track down Newgarden in the closing stages. Will Power converted his pole position into a third-place result. Rookie Scott McLaughlin finished fourth, giving Team Penske three drivers inside the top four. Sebastien Bourdais came home fifth.
As IndyCar’s title race took another twist, Newgarden and O’Ward capitalized on the troubles of Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Alex Palou and Scott Dixon.
Palou and Dixon entered Saturday first and third in the points standings. But on Lap 65, Rinus VeeKay made contact from behind with Palou after slamming on the brakes while trying to avoid Dixon. All three drivers were collected in the crash and eventually eliminated by the damage.
Palou, who had led the points after the previous four races, slipped to second in the standings at 10 points behind O’Ward.
Following initial repairs on pit road, Dixon went to the garage for an extended period before returning. He eventually bowed out with around 70 laps to go and finished 19th, 160 laps off the pace. He fell behind Newgarden to fourth in the standings, 43 points behind O’Ward.
After a solid run and having a few breaks go his way, O’Ward felt he got the most out of his car and race considering that passing was at a premium.
“It’s really tough to pass here,” O’Ward told NBCSN. “The only way to get by someone is, maybe if I had way newer tires than Josef. But we had the same amount of tire life. We had the same amount of fuel. It’s just tough to pass around here, as we saw last year.”
The Palou-Dixon-VeeKay incident capped a disjointed first quarter of the 260-lap race with five yellow flags in the first 75 laps. But things finally settled into a rhythm afterward with only one caution over the last 185 laps, and Newgarden retained the lead up to and after his first green flag stop at Lap 134.
A few laps later, Colton Herta dispatched Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi for second place and then set his sights on Newgarden. On Lap 139, Newgarden attempted to block Herta into Turn 1, but Herta still took the lead away on the inside.
From there, Herta maintained a gap of roughly 1 second over Newgarden until he pitted from the lead at Lap 185, and his team discovered a broken half-shaft on the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that ended Herta’s bid for his second victory of 2021.
Newgarden and O’Ward had clean stops from first and second place on Lap 198. Two laps later, Rossi got high and crashed in the Turn 2 wall to bring out the caution. The No. 27 driver took the blame for the error in an NBCSN interview.
The race resumed with 50 laps remaining. Josef Newgarden withstood the restart, and while O’Ward remained in striking distance throughout the final run, he was unable to mount a challenge in the closing stages of IndyCar at Gateway.