Sunday, March 26, 2023

Newgarden Holds Off Grosjean to Win Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Josef Newgarden celebrates winning the at Long Beach.
Josef Newgarden celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach for the first time in his career. Image courtesy of Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment

Josef Newgarden held off Romain Grosjean on a late restart to claim victory in a thrilling Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Combined with his last-gasp win at Texas last month, the 31-year-old Tennessee native has now won back-to-back races and keeps Team Penske undefeated through the opening three races of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a fight today,” said Newgarden, who leaves Long Beach as the new championship leader (118-113 over teammate Scott McLaughlin). “This is not an easy race to win. I don’t know if it looks simple from the outside, but I was my butt off with Grosjean there on the used reds. I was hoping he would fade a little bit towards the end, just trying to hold him off on the restart was super difficult. This Hitachi car, though, was on it.

“We knew coming into the race, we have a good strategy, we make good fuel with Team Chevy, we were going to be all right. I had everything I needed to do with pit stops, as you saw trying to get around Alex (Palou). So proud of Team Penske. I’ve been trying to win a race here for 11 years, so I’m so happy to finally get done.”

The 85-lap contest began with pole-sitter Colton Herta leaving fellow front row starter Newgarden and the field at the once the green flag dropped, pulling up to a 2.3s gap by Lap 6. However, it was negated after A.J. Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett found the outside wall of Turn 1.

A clean restart followed on Lap 9, with Newgarden able to hold the gap to within 1.5s for the majority of the stint. It wasn’t until nearing his initial pit stop on Lap 30 that Newgarden, complaining about the left front grip level over the radio, lost time and the gap increased to 1.9s.

Herta, who pitted a lap prior, ended up cycling out behind Newgarden over the pit sequence, with third-place starter Alex Palou managing to jump both and into the lead after making up more than 3.4s.

The three drivers remained close throughout the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, with Palou solidly out front until his next pit stop on Lap 55.

During this sequence, Herta, who had yet to pit, ended up clobbering the wall in Turn 9. The damage was too severe for his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda to continue on as he pulled off course and was left to retire. He ended up finishing 23rd.

Newgarden waited an additional two laps to pit, and came out thrust in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Palou for the lead. The two nearly came together in Turn 5 until Palou conceded the fight for the moment and tucked in behind Newgarden.

A caution came out on Lap 60 after Simon Pagenaud was stalled in the garden that surrounds the Fountain just past Turn 1. Pagenaud was trying to make a pass on Takuma Sato when his No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda ended up the latest lawn mower over a bed of flowers as he collided and spun with Sato’s No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda.

This brought the field to the back of Newgarden and Palou, including Grosjean, who was the only driver among the top five on the softer Firestone alternate (red sidewall) tires. A restart on Lap 66 put Grosjean’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda right on the rear wing of Palou’s No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and was able to make the pass the following lap as they charged into Turn 1.

Grosjean stalked Newgarden constantly and was nearly ripe to pull of a race-winning move, but was fended off with a masterful defense.

However, another caution came out on Lap 76 after Jimmie Johnson was caught out in Turn 8 and hit the tire barrier, collecting rookie David Malukas in the process.

The incident set up a restart with five laps to go, with Grosjean able to stay with Newgarden out of the final hairpin corner. Despite the strong restart, Grosjean was unable to put together enough of a run to attempt a pass.

Another caution fell on the final lap after Sato found the tire barriers at Turn 8, which provided Newgarden a calm return to collect the checkered flag on the Streets of Long Beach for the first time in his career.


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