He made it look easy, but Josef Newgarden said winning the KOHLER Grand Prix was anything but that on Sunday.
The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion led all but two laps to claim victory at the iconic Road America circuit. Driving the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden won by 3.3759 seconds over Ryan Hunter-Reay to pick up his third victory of the 2018 season and 10th of his seven-year career.
“It was a hard-fought day; it was not as easy as it looked,” Newgarden said. “I was looking at my mirrors half the day at Ryan closing in on me. I think that Team Chevy engine made the difference. I had the fuel mileage that I needed, good power, good reliability – everything that you’d expect from Team Chevy. At the end of the day, to me, that’s what made the difference.”
Starting from the pole position after winning the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying on Saturday, Newgarden led the first 13 laps on the 14-turn, 4.014-mile permanent road course until making his first pit stop. Scott Dixon, the points leader driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, led two laps before also stopping, with Newgarden reassuming first place and never relinquishing it the rest of the way.
Newgarden wound up leading 53 of the 55 laps to give Team Penske its fifth win at Road America and victory No. 202 for the team in 51 years of Indy car competition. The race ran caution-free for the ninth time at Road America and first since 2000, with Newgarden’s speed average of 132.101 mph establishing a race record.
“It was a day of executing. Team Penske did a great job,” Newgarden said. “You’re trying to juggle fuel economy and driving fast and the tires are wearing out, so you’re nearly wrecking towards the end of the stints in all the high-speed corners. It’s really difficult to manage the whole thing but our car was phenomenal. Our car was great on Firestone reds (alternates tires). I was loving the reds today so that’s why I kept choosing them.”
Hunter-Reay, in the No. 28 DHL Honda, secured his best Road America finish in five tries with the runner-up finish. It moved the Andretti Autosport driver into second place in the championship after 10 of 17 races, trailing Dixon by 45 points.
“I thought we had the pace for (Newgarden) early on,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion. “But after we took that second-to-last set of reds and then at the end with him on the new reds, I could keep up with him for a bit but then in the dirty air I just couldn’t do anything with him. That’s about all we had today.
“Good, fun day. One position short.”
Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2017 winner at Road America, recovered from his worst starting position in five starts at the track (eighth) to finish third.
“Had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” Dixon said. “Speed-wise, we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn) 14, got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.
“All in all, great points day for us, lead in the championship, which is important.”
Two championship front-runners suffered issues that saddled them with disappointing finishes. Will Power, winner of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 last month, had a mechanical issue at the start, completing just two laps in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and finishing last in the 23-car field.
“Literally from as soon as I started warming it up, there was something amiss,” Power said. “I have no clue. They replaced the exhaust and it still didn’t take, so the Chevy guys will take deeplook at it.”
Alexander Rossi was running fourth when he was forced to pit with a front suspension issue on the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda with 17 laps remaining. The Andretti Autosport driver finished 16th.
“I think we had a car definitely to fight to be on the podium,” Rossi said. “It wasn’t enough to win today, but halfway through the third stint we had some camber shims fall out of the left front tire which made it pretty undriveable. It’s disappointing when something unlucky like that happens.”
The standings after 10 of 17 races have Dixon in the lead with 393 points, followed by Hunter-Reay (348), Rossi (348), Newgarden (343), Power (328), Graham Rahal (278), Robert Wickens (274), Simon Pagenaud (255), Sebastien Bourdais (235) and Marco Andretti (232).
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action Sunday, July 8 with the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. The race from the 0.894-mile oval airs live at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.