Josef Newgarden earns Team Penske’s first victory in 2021 at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio – After facing more than a season of bad luck with their cars up front late in races over the past four weeks, Team Penske has completed a race weekend at the top for the first time in 2021.

Starting from pole – his third consecutive P1 prize – Josef Newgarden dominated for a third straight IndyCar on Sunday, leading 73 of 80 laps to win the checkered flag in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The victory was Team Penske’s first this season, the sixth team to climb to the top of the podium, and it came on the weekend of the team’s 50th anniversary of their first victory (July 3, 1971 in the Shaefer 500 at Pocono International Raceway by Mark Donohue).

This followed a month of three races in June, rich in misfortunes for the team. In Race 1 of the Detroit Grand Prix, Will Power led 37 of 70 laps, but saw his ECU struggling to restart after a late red flag. In the lead with five laps to go, he finished 20th. The next day Newgarden started on pole and led the first 67 laps, but was passed in a late-race restart after a series of crashes that brought the field together. After what turned out to be a risky call to tire strategy, his red tires had shrunk too much and he was caught with three laps to go by eventual race winner Pato O’Ward. Newgarden still managed to finish second.

Two weeks later at Road America, Newgarden led 32 of the first 53 laps in a 55-lap contest when, on another late restart, his gearbox suffered a failure which, two weeks later, still left the team president Tim Cindric scratching his head. In the final two laps, the Mid-Ohio winner would sink like a rock through the field and finish as the last car in the lap in 21st position.

In total, June had 136 laps led in those three races out of a total of 195. With Sunday now over, Team Penske is no longer empty-handed in 2021.

“It was really tough to hang on, but my winger (quarterback Tim Cindric) coached me the whole way,” Newgarden said on the post-race show. “This team did the job. Everyone gave me a hard time with what’s going on with us who didn’t win a race, but I don’t think those people from the Penske team could have do something different, we’ve been in the game almost every race.

“It’s great to see a win here at last this year, but we’ll probably need three or four more if we are to win a championship, but I know this team can do it.”

Newgarden’s victory didn’t come without another late challenge. After leading much of the race with a gap of 6 to 8 seconds, Marcus Ericsson came considerably closer to the last 15 laps. An advantage that stood at 7.1 seconds with 14 laps to go, reduced to just 1.5 seconds with two laps to go and less than a second as the two crossed the start-finish line to take the White flag. When they crossed the checkered flag, Ericsson was just 0.8790 seconds away from their second win of the year and in IndyCar.

“We were pushing really, really hard there at the end to try to catch up with Josef. A few more laps and we could have fought for that,” said Ericsson. “But at the end here (second place) was a great result today.”

Series points leader Alex Palou topped the podium after a superb final pit stop where he jumped Scott Dixon (4th Sunday) and Alexander Rossi (5th) for Palou’s 6th podium in 10 races this year. Leader Ganassi extended his lead over Pato O’Ward (8th) from 28 to 39 points, with Dixon in 3rd to 56 points. Newgarden drastically reduced what was an 88-point deficit to start the weekend in 4th place. He is now 69 points behind his 3rd IndyCar Championship before a 35-day break.

Graham Rahal finished 6th, Romain Grosjean (7th), O’Ward (8th), Santino Ferrucci (9th) and Takuma Sato (10th) completing the top 10 on Sunday.

On the other end of the spectrum, two crashes in the first three laps of Sunday’s race sealed the fate of the final four drivers. In the first lap, James Hinchcliffe slid into the back of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay as the peloton rallied around Turn 4, spinning them both. A few rows back, Romain Grosjean rode behind Felix Rosenqvist’s back, spinning the # 7 Arrow McLaren SP with Rosenqvist returning for his first race since June 12 due to an injury.

All three cars immediately headed to the pits, with Hinchcliffe returning immediately after new tires. Rosenqvist and Hunter-Reay’s cars needed some work, and they finished Sunday two laps ahead of 23rd and 24th respectively.

On lap 3 just after the second green flag of the day, Dixon was racing wheel to wheel outside of Will Power on turn 5, and the two came together. Power sped down the middle of the track, and moments later, crossing the hill, Ed Jones couldn’t avoid hitting Power’s No.12.

“Super disappointed to be out so early,” said Power. “(Dixon) rushed me and I had nowhere to go. I was on the curve. I should have known he would be aggressive. But that’s what you get when you pick black ( tires). People will attack you hard. “

Email IndyStar sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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