The 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at the Texas Motor Speedway looked a lot like the 2022 edition. Felix Rosenqvist was on the pole and Josef Newgarden was the one celebrating in victory lane. Newgarden narrowly clipped Pato O’Ward for the top spot when the fifth and final caution flew for Romain Grosjean’s Lap 248 crash on the backstretch. With Newgarden shown as the leader at the time that the caution was displayed, he was left netting his 26th career victory. That win ties Rodger Ward for 15th most all-time.
“I think the difference maker for our car was that it just had really good speed,” said Newgarden of his final battle in the end with O’Ward. “It had really natural speed to it. I felt like it was a little bit quicker than Pato’s car, which in the past when I’ve raced him here I felt the opposite, I actually felt like Pato had a really quick car innately.
“Today was the complete opposite for me. My car had the speed it needed. It was about keeping positioning where I was. That was the key. Just don’t let him get underneath me basically.”
23 of his 26 wins have come with Team Penske including 11 of those 23 on ovals. 1 of his 3 wins with Ed Carpenter Racing also came on an oval as well.
“It’s great. I would have liked to start under better circumstances after round one. Here we are playing a little bit of catch-up. Got a long way to go,” said Newgarden. “I’m happy we were able to get this done today. It was good affirmation for the whole team.
“Really, really positive on our team. We’ve got a great group across the board, but really on the 2 car, there’s a lot of changes. They’re really good. I’m happy they were able to be shown what they’re capable of this weekend ’cause I know it. Now I feel like they’re really going to believe it going forward.”
Newgarden started off looking like the early race favorite. After a chaotic start which saw four lead changes in the first 6 laps, the Tennessee native would lead every lap from Lap 6 through 108. O’Ward would lead the next six laps during this pit cycle before handing the keys back to Newgarden on Lap 117.
The thing is, after this round of stops, O’Ward’s car got better while Newgarden lost some pace. Newgarden’s No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet would lead the next 13 laps, however, O’Ward got by him on Lap 130 and at this moment, this was shaping up to be O’Ward’s to lose.
On this stint, O’Ward extended his lead from .0717-seconds to 7.1638-seconds. In fact, in just 15 laps, his lead exceeded 4.5-seconds.
Lap 130: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 0.0717 of a seconds
Lap 135: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 1,0169 seconds.
Lap 140: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 1.7466 seconds.
Lap 145: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 4.5973 seconds.
Lap 150: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 5.7879 seconds. Only five cars are on the lead lap.
Lap 155: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 6.2414 seconds.
Lap 160: 5-O’Ward leads 2-Newgarden by 7.1638 seconds. Only the top two cars are on the lead lap.
This race was going to be O’Ward vs. Newgarden with everyone else playing for third a lap down.
“We were getting beat pretty significantly in the middle of the race,” Newgarden admitted. “I thought beginning of the race we had him, like, super covered. The car was good, track gripped up. I asked for some progressions on the setup. They were not right for the way the track was trending.
“I think Pato went the right way. He did the exact opposite of what I was doing. They were telling me what he was asking for. We were bad in the middle. He snuck back up on me. I had a big gap. He snuck up on me, was walking away.
“I was like we just need to get through this stint and catch back up. He had such a lead at that point, it was going to be difficult. The caution 100% brought us back into it. We got the car back to where it needed to be. When we were in position, we could get the job done.
“But we were not significantly better than him. I mean, he was just as good. He was definitely better in the middle. In the end he was just as good. It could have gone either way, in my opinion, between our cars.
“It was slipping away. It can happen that quickly. It was one stint that was really not good.
“I could see where Pato was strong. In a lot of ways I thought he was just right in step with us, even to start the race. When I would start to pull maybe a second on him, he could pretty much match us straight up. He was very good.
“Then I de-tuned us in that stint. He tuned in his race car into the correct direction. He just really took advantage of that particular segment of the race. For sure, I was really worried about did I just compromise the finish here. He’s gotten a big gap on us.
“But you got to stay positive. We fortunately had a yellow that bunched us back up and gave us an opportunity.”
It all changed when O’Ward’s teammate and pole sitter, Rosenqvist, crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 179. This was arguably the biggest moment of the race.
With just two cars on the lead lap, they could easily pit and not lose any positions under yellow. That’s exactly what they’d do on Lap 182. The thing is, the other lapped cars still had a chance to pit and by taking the wave around, they’d now be on the lead lap and have fresher tires as well as more gas.
Newgarden’s strategist, Tim Cindric, outsmarted O’Ward’s by pitting with the 5 cars that took the wave around and also came down pit road. Now, Newgarden, Alex Palou, Romain Grosjean, Colton Herta, Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin had four fresh tires on Lap 188 and a full tank of fuel. David Malukas elected to get back on the lead lap but not pit.
So, you had O’Ward who pit on Lap 182 in first, Malukas who last pit on Lap 162 also on the lead lap vs. Newgarden, Palou, Grosjean, Herta, Dixon and McLaughlin who pit on Lap 188.
It went exactly like we though. Palou, Newgarden and Herta were now in the mix for the win while O’Ward was fuel saving and hoping for help.
He got lucky. Sting Ray Robb crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 210 and once again changed the course of how this race would get decided.
Under this caution, O’Ward would finally pit. So would Malukas. Newgarden and McLaughlin weren’t going to let them flip the advantage to their direction so they joined them on pit road on Lap 213. Palou, Grosjean, Herta and Dixon didn’t pit and now had 25 lap older tires.
This was their only play though because all four were Honda’s to where the Chevy’s of O’Ward and Newgarden were unstoppable.
That didn’t prove to be the final caution though. Devlin DeFrancesco found the Turn 2 wall and while trying to get to pit lane, he lost control and slid up the track in the third corner. Graham Rahal had no where to go and the two collided on Lap 223.
Grosjean and Dixon would be the only two to pit under this caution on Lap 226 setting up a 12 lap, eight car shootout for the win in the second race of the season.
Newgarden did what he had to do again while O’Ward for a second straight race, had to settle for a runner-up finish in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet.
“I had the timing right,” said O’Ward. “The lap before we crossed the line, my nose was slightly in front of his. There was no way it was going to finish in single file. Yeah, racing gods had other plans.”
This was the seventh time that Newgarden and O’Ward finished 1-2 in a race with Newgarden leading O’Ward in the head-to-head advantage 5-2.
Another Runner-Up For O’Ward
If things just go slightly different in the opening two races in the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, Pato O’Ward could be sitting here 2-for-2 in terms of victories to begin the new season off with. O’Ward was left frazzled after his car sputtered while leading at the end of the season opener last month in St. Pete.
Then came a bit of bad luck on Lap 97 to which O’Ward says that they gave it away off the final turn that lap. An engine fire caused the engine to sputter which slowed his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet and allowed Ericsson by.
“Frazzled,” said O’Ward of his emotions that day.
A plenum event is the official diagnoses of what transpired to which kept O’Ward out of victory lane in the season opener.
“Well, at that point you can’t really do much besides just kind of — I didn’t have a lot of Push-to-Pass to play with, so I was managing it accordingly, and I think we would have been just fine,” O’Ward said of the bad luck. “We were managing a one-second gap, and I don’t think Marcus was going to get us.
“Yeah, I mean, kind of speaks for itself. Right at the exit, we kind of lost drive and gained it back. We were lucky not to get passed by Scott.
“Yeah, I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s very unfortunate.”
This race, he held a 7.1-second lead coming to his third pit stop of the race. At that time, he and Josef Newgarden were the only two drivers on the lead lap. This was his race to lose.
Unfortunately, his teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, crashing in Turn 4 on Lap 179 really cost his advantage. If that caution never flies, there’s no doubt that O’Ward could have won in blowout fashion. Instead, that’s the part to where his race was nearly lost.
He and Newgarden wisely pit under that caution on Lap 182, but with the lap cars taking the wave around, there’s now be six more cars joining them on the same lap again and they’d get an advantage by pitting later. Newgarden countered and pit with them. O’Ward didn’t.
He was now a lame duck. With having to fuel save while other had fresher tires and could essentially sprint while O’Ward had to jog, his race winning chances were practically over.
Luckily, Sting Ray Robb crashed on Lap 210 which set up O’Ward getting to pit under caution and now having enough gas and the fresher tires to make it to the end. He was back in the race for the win again and could be the aggressor.
It took him now time to get to the lead again and it was allowing him to flex his Chevrolet muscle. Unfortunately, two more cautions came out with negated his advantage and bunched the field up for a wild shootout to the finish. O’Ward led by over 7 seconds at one point, had two cars on the lead lap and led 91 laps. He didn’t win.
“I knew I could have won,” said O’Ward. “It’s just there was really no other way to do it besides timing it. You had to do it the last lap ’cause if not, they were probably going to do it to you.
“Just the timing of the last yellow is what really killed us to be honest. All the other ones, you can’t judge when they fall or didn’t fall. If they did, it would probably be a very different story.”
Still, two straight runner-ups to begin 2023 off with gives him the points lead heading to Long Beach in a couple of weeks. This feels like his season to do some damage and end the “Big 2” reign of championships for which no one outside of Penske or Ganassi has won a championship in the last decade. Count Andretti Autosport, this trio of teams have won every championship since 2003 too.
Can O’Ward and Arrow McLaren Racing be the first ones to break that trend?
So far it looks like it.
“I have to say to the guys it’s been a hell of a start to the year,” O’Ward said. “I had a rocket. Like, I don’t think there’s another way to put it. I was really comfortable in the car. It was fun, I have to say. Like, it’s got to be the best Texas race in the last four, five years. It was freaking awesome.
“Really, really nice that I got to drive and race with guys that I have so much respect for: Alex, Josef. You can push it to the limit, but you always give each other the room that you need. I think that’s what we gave the fans. That’s what they deserve.”
This was his 15th career podium and 25th top five finish in 57 career starts. Oddly enough, a chunk of those have come on ovals. O’Ward has made 16 oval starts with two wins, five runner-up finishes and 12 top four results including 11 top four’s in his last 12 tries.
Strong Performance For Palou In 3rd
Alex Palou has never been a great oval racer. He’s been solid, but not great. However, he showed on Sunday that he may very well win an oval race before the season concludes. Even with 25 lap older tires than four cars on the lead lap at the end and 38 laps older than the other two, Palou still held off five of those lead lap cars to finish with a strong third place result in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda in Sunday’s PPG 375.
Palou was a lap down coming to his third pit stop, but was helped by that Lap 179 caution for Felix Rosenqvist. That put him back on the lead lap. They’d pit under that caution on Lap 188. They’d not hit pit road again after.
That could have been a problem and if this race went green for the rest of the way, may have been. However, three cautions in the final 29 laps helped that pit strategy not catch him out with older tires.
Palou still battled for the lead and even was leading towards the end. He’d instead net his 16th career podium in his 49th INDYCAR start. What’s wild is, this was also his 18th career top five finish, which goes to show when he’s in the top five, he’s on the podium more times than not with all but two of his top five finishes having been on a podium.
But, I’m more impressed to see him nearly win on an oval.
Palou was runner-up in the 2021 Indy 500 to go along with a pair of top seven’s at Texas in 2021. However, he was seventh again here a year ago and ninth in Indy. He’s a top 10 driver, but not one that can consistently win at.
He was 13th and 9th in practice and started 7th.
“Yeah, I’m super happy. Really, really happy as if I won today,” said Palou. “Honestly, I did not expect that. It’s a place that I struggled a lot in the past. But yesterday I felt confident, and also today as the race started, like the car was good.
“Honestly, I don’t think we had the speed that the 5 and the 2 had. I still tried. I knew that they had little bit better tires and that they had a bit more speed.
“It was a hell of a race. I had a lot of fun with most of the drivers, not with everybody.”
Dixon Breaks Top 5 Record
Scott Dixon backed up his third-place finish in the season opener at St. Pete and turned that into a fifth place run in Sunday’s PPG 375 at the Texas Motor Speedway. That has him in the running early for his record tying seventh NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
Speaking of records, Dixon broke one on Sunday with his top five finish in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda. That was Dixon’s 194th career top five finish in the series. That breaks a tie with Mario Andretti for most all-time. It was also his fifth straight top five finish on this 1.44-mile-high banked Fort Worth area race track. He’s led 680 laps here since 2018 including three more on Sunday afternoon.
So, what’s next up for Dixon?
He’s 12 podiums shy of tying Mario Andretti for most ever. He’s seven runner-up’s short of tying Andretti for most ever. He needs just 13 more wins to tie AJ Foyt for most all-time too.
Needless to say, Dixon could own the record book in the next few years.
Malukas Breaks Up Big Team Party Up Front
David Malukas had a breakout party last August at the World Wide Technology Raceway when he had a brilliant pit strategy to finish runner-up in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. On Sunday, he showed more aggression at the Texas Motor Speedway. On a track that sees the bigger teams rewarded, Malukas put his Dale Coyne Racing with HMD entry in the top five in the PPG 375.
The sophomore driver finished fourth in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda for his second career top five finish, both on ovals.
When you look around Malukas up front, you’d see a pair of Penske’s, three Ganassi’s, a McLaren and an Andretti driver. That’s 7 of the top 8 in the final finishing order. Malukas was the odd man out as the only other one among them on the lead lap.
Penske and Ganassi have alternated wins in each of the last six years here and victors in 8 of the last 10 overall. RLL and AMSP are the only exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 in 2021. RLL also won the 2020 Indy 500 too.
Last year, Penske and Ganassi swept the entire top 7 of the final finishing order.
That’s how impressive he was in coming from his ninth place starting spot. However, he almost was a lame duck. Malukas took the wave around under that Lap 179 caution to get back on the lead lap. When 6 of the other 7 lead lap cars pit on Lap 188, Malukas joined Pato O’Ward as the only ones not to.
Those 6 were on the offense while Malukas and O’Ward had to jog their cars and tires to the finish while also saving gas. Then came that Lap 210 caution for Malukas’ teammate Sting Ray Robb. It allowed Malukas to pit and now be on the preferred strategy with plenty of fuel and the freshest tires. Just he, O’Ward and the pair of Penske’s pit on Lap 213.
He used that to his advantage to score his second straight top 10 finish to start the season off with as he now has five top 10 results in his first 19 starts to his career.
Expensive Start To The Season For Andretti Autosport
Kyle Kirkwood showed so much promise in not only the testing days at Thermal Club and Sebring, but also in St. Pete too. Being quick in both practices and qualifying in the Fast Six showed that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Unfortunately, it’s been all downhill from there.
A crash in the Fast Six, a crash in the season opener (15th place) and now another DNF in Texas (27th), has him marred down in 20th in points after the first two weeks.
He’s not the only one with some bad luck.
Romain Grosjean had a chance to win St. Pete. He won the pole but crashed with Scott McLaughlin in going for the lead after their final pit stop. Grosjean finished 18th. He crashed with two laps remaining in Texas and was scored in 14th as a result. He sits 17th in points.
Devlin DeFrancesco crashed hard on the opening lap in St. Pete and did so again in Texas as he’s finished 25th and 23rd respectively this year. He’s 28th in points.
Colton Herta also crashed in St. Pete (20th place) but did rebound to finish 7th in Texas. He’s 11th in the standings heading to Long Beach.
Still, 11-17-20-28 in points and 7 crashed race cars out of 8 isn’t the start to the season that Andretti expected.
FORT WORTH, Texas – Results Sunday of the PPG 375 NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 250, Running
2. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 250, Running
3. (7) Alex Palou, Honda, 250, Running
4. (9) David Malukas, Honda, 250, Running
5. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 250, Running
6. (15) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 250, Running
7. (10) Colton Herta, Honda, 250, Running
8. (16) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 249, Running
9. (17) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 249, Running
10. (21) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 249, Running
11. (26) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 249, Running
12. (19) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 249, Running
13. (18) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 249, Running
14. (11) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 248, Contact
15. (13) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 248, Running
16. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 248, Running
17. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 247, Running
18. (28) Jack Harvey, Honda, 247, Running
19. (27) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 247, Running
20. (25) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 246, Running
21. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 246, Running
22. (3) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 243, Running
23. (12) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 221, Contact
24. (24) Graham Rahal, Honda, 219, Contact
25. (23) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 208, Contact
26. (1) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 177, Contact
27. (20) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 97, Contact
28. (6) Takuma Sato, Honda, 46, Contact
Winner’s average speed: 169.917 mph
Time of Race: 2:07:07.2653
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 5 for 52 laps
Lead changes: 26 among 8 drivers
Dixon, Scott 1 – 2
Newgarden, Josef 3
Dixon, Scott 4
Newgarden, Josef 5 – 65
Palou, Alex 66 – 67
Newgarden, Josef 68 – 108
O’Ward, Pato 109 – 114
Rosenqvist, Felix 115
Robb, Sting Ray 116
Newgarden, Josef 117 – 128
O’Ward, Pato 129 – 169
Rosenqvist, Felix 170 – 172
O’Ward, Pato 173 – 194
Palou, Alex 195 – 198
Newgarden, Josef 199 – 200
Palou, Alex 201 – 202
Herta, Colton 203 – 206
O’Ward, Pato 207 – 208
Palou, Alex 209 – 219
Grosjean, Romain 220 – 221
O’Ward, Pato 222 – 238
Palou, Alex 239 – 241
Newgarden, Josef 242
O’Ward, Pato 243
Newgarden, Josef 244 – 246
O’Ward, Pato 247 – 248
Newgarden, Josef 249 – 250
NTT INDYCAR SERIES Point Standings: O’Ward 82, Ericsson 75, Dixon 67, Newgarden 66, Palou 60, Malukas 53, Ilott 52, McLaughlin 48, Power 40, Rossi 40, Herta 37, Canapino 36, Rahal 34, Lundgaard 33, Grosjean 31, VeeKay 28, Castroneves 27, Daly 26, Harvey 20, Kirkwood 20, Robb 20, Pedersen 20, Marcus Armstrong 19, Pagenaud 18, Rosenqvist 18, Carpenter 17, Ferrucci 15, DeFrancesco 12, Sato 5