Josef Newgarden had done enough to secure victory at Sunday’s Long Beach Grand Prix even before the late yellow flag essentially guaranteed it, according to the two drivers who chased him across the line.
Newgarden, who took the lead during the second and final round of pitstops, weathered a late challenge from Romain Grosjean. Both were in the sights of Alex Palou, who’d led the middle stint but fell back to third due to a combination of pitstop and tire strategies.
Grosjean had saved a set of softer-compound red Firestones and a pile of push-to-pass for the late phase of the race but burned through them while trying to overtake Newgarden after a late restart. With his main advantages gone and a speed deficit to Newgarden on the straight, Grosjean doesn’t believe he would have had an answer for Newgarden had the race stayed green to the finish.
“I think Josef had it,” Grosjean said. “I was looking at Turn 11, the hairpin, making a last-lap lunge, maybe, if I was close enough, but I don’t think I was close enough on that lap and Josef was driving well and not making any mistakes. It’s not ideal to finish under yellow but I don’t think the result would have been much different.
“You don’t have that much option when you’re on fresh tires or red versus black [tire compounds] on a street course. You know it’s going to equalize itself after a while. The first[move] on Alex — he defended really well on the inside, braked super late, and I think if I could have pulled that one out then I would have been fine to get Josef on the next lap. But I did not, so by the time I got to Josef I didn’t have much push-to-pass left and he had a really good straight-line speed, so it was just hard to get him.”
Palou’s take was more straightforward. “I didn’t have anything for [Newgarden and Grosjean],” he said. “I don’t think the result would have been much different [if the race had stayed green].”
While Newgarden’s rivals forced him to work for his result, the two-time champion agreed that most of the hard stuff was out of the way by the time he got to the final restart.
“I think [Grosjean] chewed his tires up a little bit too much leading into the last yellow,” he said. “The first yellow — he had a definite tire advantage with the reds, but then he was out of push-to-pass and I was, too, to be quite honest. I think I had two seconds left leading into that last restart, so I didn’t really have any, either. But his tires were just not quite as good as the first restart, so I think I had a better opportunity to hold ground, whereas that first restart I was really vulnerable and fortunately we just hung on.”
Newgarden’s win – his second in a row – gives him a five-point championship lead over Team Penske stablemate Scott McLaughlin heading into the next race at Barber.