There was Pato O’Ward, and then there was everyone else taking part in the NTT IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway who were powerless to stop the Arrow McLaren driver who lapped up to second place by lap 161 of the 250-lap PPG 375 event. But leading strong and leading the last lap are two different things.
More cautions followed, and with a late restart on lap 239 and a wild scramble to the checkered flag, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden fired past the McLaren driver and went on the secure back-to-back victories at TMS in the No. 2 Chevy after front-running contender Romain Grosjean crashed his Andretti Autosport Honda on lap 249 and the breathtaking race finished under yellow.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, who fought his way past O’Ward and Newgarden at various points to lead in the latter half of the race, settled for third in the No. 10 Honda.
Not the way @RGrosjean wanted his day to end. #INDYCAR
A look at the race-ending caution. pic.twitter.com/QwC90KQnXL
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) April 2, 2023
“I don’t know what else to say but our car was fast,” Newgarden said.
“Pato was walking away but we got the tuning back and we were in the position (to win) in the end. We are on the board. We weren’t on the board in St. Pete, but we are on the board.”
If there was a consolation prize for O’Ward, it’s his takeover of the championship lead on the strength of a pair of second-place runs to open the season.
“It’s been a hell of a start to the championship, but it’s a long year,” he said.
Behind Palou, emerging oval specialist David Malukas put on another show as he survived a late gaffe — failing to pit during a caution, which was rectified when another crash quickly slowed the field and allowed him to dash in for fuel and tires — to challenge the podium runners before claiming fourth in his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports Honda.
CGR’s Scott Dixon finished fifth during a busy day moving forwards and backwards in the No. 9 Honda after starting second, and Penske’s Scott McLaughlin was the biggest riser, improving from 15th to sixth.
Among the crazy three- and four-wide moments during the race, one of the smallest teams with two of the least experienced oval racers in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott (P9) and rookie Augustin Canapino (P12) ran ahead and finished ahead of IndyCar champions and Indy 500 winners.
Of those who left TMS in a state of disappointment, Penske’s Will Power fell from eighth to 16th, losing a wheel during one pit stop during a day where his car wasn’t overly competitive. Graham Rahal’s crash — an innocent bystander when Devlin DeFrancesco crashed in front of him — was the worst part of a forgettable weekend for his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team as his stablemates Jack Harvey (P18) and Christian Lundgaard (P19) never factored.
The PPG 375 had elements of an old IRL race during certain stages with swarms of drivers passing high and low — sometimes with tires dipped onto the grass — and wheel-banging moments among the leaders as they went full throttle without mercy.
AS IT HAPPENED
Polesitter Felix Rosenqvist led the field into Turn 1 and it lasted one lap as Scott Dixon swept by the next time around. Dixon was passed for the lead on the next lap by Josef Newgarden as Rosenqvist fell to P5. Dixon took the lead back from Newgarden the following lap as close running was the early order of the day.
Lap 9 saw Alex Palou demote Rosenqvist to P6 and the next lap, Pato O’Ward took P2 from Dixon who fell to fourth. Lap 15 saw Newgarden leading O’Ward, Palou, Dixon, Rosenqvist, and Alexander Rossi in P6.
By lap 30, Newgarden held 0.9s over O’Ward as drivers started to stretch out as they went beyond the halfway point in their opening stint. Lapping began on the 33rd tour as Christian Lundgaard and Conor Daly.
The first caution of the race was triggered by Takuma Sato who crashed exiting Turn 2 on lap 49. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was uninjured after sliding up into the wall and mangling the No. 11 Honda’s suspension.
“I was going too high and got into the gray,” Sato said of his crash.
The first round of pit stops on lap 52 went smoothly, barring a crash between Rossi and Kyle Kirkwood, which bent the front suspension on Rossi’s car, as Kirkwood went from the outside lane to his pit stall — rather than from the inside lane — and drove across the front of Rossi’s car as he was leaving the pits. There was no apparent damage to Kirkwood’s car, but the specter of a penalty was looming.
The lap 61 restart saw Newgarden lead into Turn 1 but Palou soon went to the high side and fought hard for multiple laps before settling for second. IndyCar then announced Rossi, not Kirkwood, would receive a drive-through penalty for the contact.
Palou finally got past Newgarden on lap 67 as Romain Grosjean began hassling O’Ward in P3. Newgarden retook the lead on lap 71. O’Ward took P2 from Palou on lap 75 and the running order was Newgarden, O’Ward, Palou, Grosjean, Dixon, and the surging Colton Herta in P6.
Lap 95 and leader Newgarden laps teammate Will Power in P18. Kirkwood pits on lap 100 and parks his car with a suspected mechanical issue. Leaders are Newgarden, O’Ward, Grosjean, Dixon, Palou, and Herta in P6.
“We had a rear-right upright failure. It’s in meltdown phase right now,” Kirkwood said.
Lap 110 and Newgarden pits as O’Ward stays out. Palou and O’Ward and Dixon and Grosjean, among others, follow on lap 115.
With the field cycled through, Newgarden’s early stop helped to draw out a bigger lead over O’Ward but O’Ward trimmed the gap down with aggressive passing in traffic. At the halfway point, it was Newgarden, O’Ward, Grosjean, Dixon, Palou, and McLaughlin.
Lap 130 saw O’Ward execute a daring pass in Turn 2 to take the lead. Lap 148 and O’Ward has lapped up through P7 and is holding a giant 5.2s lead over Newgarden.
Lap 150 and it’s O’Ward, Newgarden, Grosjean, Dixon, Palou and Herta in P6. Lap 151 and O’Ward laps Dixon, leaving only four cars on the lead lap. Lap 157 and the gap to Newgarden is 6.7s.
Lap 161 and O’Ward has lapped Grosjean, leaving Newgarden — 7.5s back — as the only other driver on the lead lap. Incredible.
Lap 165 and Newgarden pits. O’Ward follows on lap 169.
Lap 177 and it’s O’Ward by 5.8s over Newgarden, followed by Palou, Grosjean, Dixon, and David Malukas in P6. All behind Newgarden remain a lap down.
Caution on lap 179 as Rosenqvist, exiting the pits, crashed in Turn 4, tagging the rear of the car against the outside wall. He was uninjured in the incident.
Lap 183 and O’Ward and Newgarden pit. Newgarden returns on lap 188 under caution to top up his tank as most drivers will need to save fuel to make it to the finish.
The Lap 194 restart saw O’Ward lead into Turn 1 and Newgarden challenge around the opening corners before falling back to P2 and that’s just what Palou needed to blow by and take the lead. Lap 199 and Newgarden takes the lead from Palou as Malukas holds third.
Lap 200 and the leaders are Newgarden, Palou, O’Ward, Grosjean, Malukas and Herta in P6. Lap 204 and it’s Newgarden followed by Herta and then Herta goes by for the lead as fuel saving is dictating their desire to run at the front.
Lap 209 and Palou is back to the lead ahead of O’Ward, Newgarden, Grosjean, Herta, and Dixon in P6.
The third caution was required on lap 211 after Sting Ray Robb made hard contact exiting Turn 2. Robb said he was OK, but “got his bell rung.” Fuel saving is no longer an issue.
Lap 214 and Palou stays out while O’Ward and Newgarden pits.
The Lap 219 restart featured Palou leading Grosjean, Herta, Dixon, O’Ward, and Dixon in P6.
Lap 221 and Grosjean takes the lead as O’Ward goes around him and Palou for the lead on lap 222.
THE ACTION IS NON-STOP!#INDYCAR | @NBC and @peacock pic.twitter.com/U4j7jva8uc
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) April 2, 2023
Fourth caution flies on Lap 224 as Graham Rahal and Devlin DeFrancesco make contact in Turn 3. After understeering into the Turn 2 wall, DeFrancesco drove towards the pits but slid up from the apron into Rahal’s path in Turn 3 which sent Rahal’s car flying before coming down and hitting the wall. Both drivers appeared to be uninjured.
Lap 227 and Grosjean and Dixon pit.
The lap 239 restart featured O’Ward leading Palou, Newgarden, Herta, Malukas, and Scott McLaughlin in P6. Palou takes the lead entering Turn 3. lap 241 and Newgarden takes P2 from O’Ward. Lap 243 and Newgarden takes P1 from Palou and O’Ward challenges him for the lead. Malukas takes P3 from Palou.
Lap 247 and Palou is up to P3 as O’Ward chases Newgarden for the lead. Lap 249 and Grosjean crashes, cementing the win for Newgarden ahead of O’Ward, Palou, Malukas, Dixon, and McLaughlin.