MADISON, Ill — The World Wide Technology Raceway strikes again. This place never disappoints. Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 was as good as they come. From early race mishaps, to a championship altering crash to a wild race to the finish, the 1.25-mile track provided some high level entertainment.
Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward were the biggest benefactors of a wild 260 lap race which saw both Alex Palou and Scott Dixon collected in a Lap 65 crash as well as both Andretti Autosport teammates of Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi taking themselves out of contention in a span of 15 laps which set up a battle between Newgarden and O’Ward for the win in the end.
Newgarden, took over the lead when Alexander Rossi crashed on Lap 200 and would never look back en route to his 20th career NTT IndyCar Series victory, 17 of which coming with Team Penske. That’s fourth most with the team and 12 shy of Rick Mears for third most within the storied organization.
O’Ward finished runner-up in his No. 5 Chevrolet for a badly needed podium. That’s his first podium since his Belle Isle victory but due to Palou’s recent bad luck, he’s made up enough ground to go from 48 points out leaving Nashville to 10 points up.
Palou, had a grid penalty in Nashville to go from third to ninth in the starting lineup. He’d only make up two spots to finish seventh. Last week in Indy, he was running fourth before he went through another engine in the closing stage of the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix. That gave him another grid penalty this weekend. This time it was nine spots as he started 21st as a result of that.
He quickly charged up to 10th but was caught out when Rossi tried to squeeze O’Ward on a lap after the restart on Lap 65 which bunched everyone up behind. Rinus VeeKay couldn’t slow down quick enough in which he got into Scott Dixon as a result. Dixon then got into Palou and ended all three of their nights early.
Palou would finish 27th last week and 20th this week with O’Ward being fifth and second respectively during this span. That’s how he’s now the points leader with three races remaining.
For Newgarden’s case, he felt like wasted his mulligans already. From the first lap crash in Barber to two runner-ups in three races after to 12th in the Indy 500, the wrong tire strategy despite leading all but three laps in Belle Isle, an electrical malfunction while leading on a late restart in Road America then two mistakes in qualifying at Nashville and Indy last week led him to being 88 points out after Road America then 75 out after Nashville. Now, following his triumph on Saturday night, he’s 22 points arrears and well within striking distance to hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy next month for the third time in five years in Long Beach.
Team Penske is showing their might again to allow that. Will Power is heating up after starting on the pole and earning his third podium in five races now after securing a third place result in his No. 12 Chevrolet on Saturday night. Their teammate Scott McLaughlin was fourth in his No. 3 Chevrolet to cap a brilliant night for the Penske organization.
Penske dominated the day in going 1-2 in practice this afternoon, took three of the top four starting spots in qualifying as well as three of the top four in the race. They’ve now won 3 of the last 4 races on the season including 6 of the last 8 in Gateway. This was their race to lose.
After going 0-for-9 to start the year off with, there’s a very real chance for them to end it 6-for-7 since the next two races are on natural road courses and they should have won in Road America then dominated the last two in Mid-Ohio and Indy.
Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top five on Saturday.
- Rough day for Ed Carpenter Racing. They were surprisingly off all afternoon. They took two the bottom 3 spots in practice earlier and were in the same positions in qualifying. Rinus VeeKay was 22nd in practice with Ed Carpenter last and in qualifying it flipped with Carpenter in 22nd and VeeKay 23rd. In the race, Carpenter crashed out on Lap 58, then a few laps later, VeeKay crashed on Lap 65.
- Andretti Autosport has to wonder what they did to the racing God’s to piss them off. This has been one bad misfortune after another for them this year. Coming to the final round of stops, they had three cars in the top six including two of which on their ways to a podium. Then, their top two drivers each had misfortunes 15 laps from one another. Colton Herta showed that he has the worst luck. He broke a drive shaft while leading on Lap 185 as his shots of winning snapped with an unfortunate exit. Herta’s car shot out of a cannon following his Lap 133 pit stop and went by Alexander Rossi a lap later, then Josef Newgarden a couple laps after that. His car was set up for the win, but more bad luck struck. “Nothing I could have done there,” he said. “I imagine the clutch is just mileaged out. We were so freaking fast. We were so good at saving fuel. This isn’t how Andretti performs or how they operate their cars. It was just a fluke thing.” That’s been his MO lately. He was collected in a first lap crash in the season opener at Barber. He had a mechanical failure in Texas 1. He was a victim of the first caution for the Indy 500 and was 16th. He was the wrong end of strategy in both Belle Isle races in finishing 14th and 4th respectively. In Nashville he was the best car/driver out there all weekend. He was quickest in every practice session then dominated from the pole. He even led 39 of the 1st 74 laps before crashing while running second in a day that got away from him due to all the cautions tying up strategy. For Rossi, he crashed with 60 to go, three laps after his final stop. He had the pace for a podium, which would have been his first of the season. Instead, it was another bad result in a race of what might have been. “I just had a big wiggle at the apex and then corrected it,” he said. “That just moved us up a half a lane and was just in the marbles. I thought it was going to come back quite honestly. It’s kind of weird. It was 100% my fault. It was a pretty minimum mistake but a huge consequence. I think we pretty easily could have been third. It’s a bummer. I just can’t catch a break. This one’s on me. We just have to reset and move on.”Rossi, started off the year with a first lap crash in the season opener at the Barber Motorsports Park. A week later, he endured an incident in St. Pete with Graham Rahal. Then came a crash on the first lap in the second Texas race, only to be plagued with bad luck from the first caution in back-to-back weeks in Indy and Belle Isle 1, a broken wing in Belle Isle 2 and a bad caution flipping strategy in Nashville. Last season came a crash while having a race winning car in the season finale on the streets of St. Pete. In Gateway was another first lap crash. For the Indy 500, came a questionable penalty on pit road while having a car that ran in the top three most of the afternoon. For Road America 1 came an early problem. Same for the Indy road course on July 4 last year with a mechanical issue. His ECU failed him at the start of the season opener in Texas. Similar misfortune happened to James Hinchcliffe to start the race as he had an ECU failure which forced him to be multiple laps down before the race even got started.
- Starting spots still key – With track position and pit sequences mattering, starting spots are still key. That’s eight straight Gateway winners coming from a top five starting spot and six of the last eight from the top three. Furthermore, 37 of the last 46 races have been won by a driver from the top 4 Rows at the start.
- Pole winners bad luck – You would think with track and starting position mattering in Indy Car these days, the top starting spot would be the ones in victory lane more times than not. Instead, they’re not. In the last 27 races run, the pole winner has won just five times. In fact, if you go back to last year and take the last 36 races, the pole winner has won only seven times. The second place starter has won just four times in that span too.
- Other than Josef Newgarden, we’ve had a new winner of this race each time. Only the best win at Gateway too. Names like Paul Tracy (1997), Alex Zanardi (1998), Michael Andretti (1999), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Al Unser Jr. (2001), Gil de Ferran (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Josef Newgarden (2017,2020, 2021), Will Power (2018), Takuma Sato (2019) and Scott Dixon (2020) all won on the 1.25-mile oval heading into this weekend.
- This is the first time last 5 races in Gateway that has seen the driver to lead the most laps actually win. The last four times, they all failed to reach victory lane. In 2018, Scott Dixon led 145 laps but finished third. In 2019, Santino Ferrucci led 97 laps but finished fourth. Last year, Pato O’Ward (94 laps in Race 1) and Takuma Sato (66 laps led in Race 2) finished third and ninth respectively.