It was a thrilling Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with a mix of pace, persistence, patience and pit strategy. That resulted in a first-time race winner, and a first-time champagne sipper for the Verizon IndyCar Series Josef Newgarden. The 24-year-old from Tennessee held off a hard-charging Graham Rahal in the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“I’m so relieved that it’s over with,” Newgarden said. “I really wanted that race to end. It was just so stressful for me. Normally I’m pretty cool, and I felt cool out there, but it was just very stressful to run those laps and try to control that thing. We’ve been there before and things have gone wrong, and today nothing went wrong.”
Newgarden led 46 of the 90 laps. He got his milestone win at Barber Motorsports Park a few hours from his hometown of Hendersonville, Tennessee, with most of the major drama coming behind him. The driver of the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet made it home on the final 27-lap stint en route to the victory, holding off fellow American Graham Rahal, who turned in arguably the drive of his career en route to second in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda.
Rahal finally slipped past Scott Dixon on the final lap after several tries, giving the American drivers a 1-2 finish. Dixon had his sixth podium finish in as many years in Alabama. Rahal’s strong finish Sunday, meanwhile, gave Honda a boost after Chevrolet fielded the seven fastest cars in qualifying, with Team Penske sweeping the top three.
“Eventually one of these days we’ll win one of these things,” Rahal said. “I hope everybody enjoyed the race because we were pushing there until the last second.”
“It was definitely a tough day,” Dixon said. “It started horribly, we kind of got pushed around there at the start and just didn’t get a clean line there. We dropped like a rock. We bled the rear tires off on the first set and I think we were the first to stop in that situation. It kind of altered the day and how we could kind of deal with tires and fuel and all that kind of stuff.”
Rahal though was the driver to watch, an an alternate strategy from his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing but still able to push throughout the race. He ran a longer second stint (from Laps 19 to 48) before pitting earlier for his final stop to push harder towards the finish. Newgarden and Castroneves were 1-2 with Rahal up to third by Lap 22. He inherited the lead by Lap 35 as most of the leaders, led by Newgarden and Castroneves, pitted.
However it wasn’t enough to catch Newgarden, who won by 2.2061 seconds to complete the first American 1-2 in IndyCar since last year at Iowa Speedway. There, Hunter-Reay beat Newgarden on the sub-one-mile oval. Two-time defending champion Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, made a big surge after starting 18th and finished fifth. Australia’s defending IndyCar series champion Will Power is still in search of his first race victory this season after finishing fourth and Carlos Munoz took sixth.
Series front-runner Juan Montoya was on the back foot after his lowly qualifying and finished 14th one place ahead of team-mate and pole sitter Helio Castroneves who ran out of fuel. Castroneves fell back to 15th after having to make a late pit stop for fuel.
“There was just a bit of miscommunication on our fuel number that, unfortunately, caused us to have to pit with one lap left,” Castroneves said. “You never want to see the white flag on pit road.”
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Results:
1. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
3. (4) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 90, Running
4. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (18) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
6. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 90, Running
7. (10) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
8. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 90, Running
9. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
10. (13) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running
11. (9) Luca Filippi, Chevrolet, 90, Running
12. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 90, Running
13. (6) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 90, Running
14. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 90, Running
15. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
16. (17) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 90, Running
17. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
18. (12) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 90, Running
19. (16) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 90, Running
20. (21) Rodolfo Gonzalez, Honda, 90, Running
21. (19) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 90, Running
22. (14) James Jakes, Honda, 89, Running
23. (23) Francesco Dracone, Honda, 89, Running
Point Standings: Montoya 136, Castroneves 133, Dixon 123, Newgarden 119, Power 112, Hinchcliffe 110, Kanaan 110, Rahal 103, Pagenaud 96, Bourdais 91
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