LEXINGTON - Josef Newgarden blasted his way into first place in the Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday, winning the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course by leading 73 of the race's 90 laps.
Newgarden started the day in second place behind pole-winner and Team Penske teammate Will Power, but pulled ahead on Lap 13.
"We were either going to pass him on track in a straight-up pass or we were going to pass him in a pit cycle, that was our plan," Newgarden said after the race. "I just didn’t want to wait until the pits. I felt like I had an opportunity so I just didn’t want to wait until the pits. He gave me a lot of racing room like a great teammate."
The 26-year-old Tennessee native was on pace to shatter the track's record for fastest 90-lap IndyCar race, but was slowed down by a full-course caution on Lap 71. He maintained his lead on the restart and held off Power and Ohio driver Graham Rahal despite being on slower tires for the final stint.
"It was a good day for us," Newgarden said. "The PPG car, it seems magical at Team Penske. I think we'll all be fighting on who gets to drive this car. Simon (Pagenaud) was very jealous I got this car this weekend, in a friendly way. Juan (Pablo Montoya) has been good in, Simon has been very good in it last year and it seemed to work for us. And we've got it for a couple more races, so hopefully it keeps working its magic."
The win helped Newgarden jump from fourth place in the series standings to first with just four races left to go. With 453 points, he now holds a mere seven-point lead over the field.
The race was not without a spot of controversy. Newgarden spent the latter half of the race just ahead of a lapped Esteban Gutierrez, and during the restart he attempted to pass Newgarden, nearly causing a crash in the process.
Power and Rahal both voiced their displeasure after the race.
"I think we need to have a talk behind closed doors with the drivers," Rahal said. "I would say Gutierrez was damn close to taking out the leader. I’m sure you saw it, that’s just ridiculous. But we’ll talk about it behind closed doors. I think everybody needs a little bit of a shakeup here, just the respect between drivers."
"It’s actually not Gutierrez’s fault," Power said. "It’s just the rules for IndyCar, it’s ridiculous that the team (Dale Coyne Racing) would tell him to stay and push. He’s not even leading. I understand if he was ahead of Newgarden, then if it goes yellow he gets his lap back. IndyCar on one hand wants really good racing but then you put a bunch of back markers, people a lap down. It ruined probably a very good battle at the end because Josef was on black tires and we were on reds."
Newgarden said he agreed a conversation between the all the drivers would need to take place in the near future.
"We’ve had this discussion about lapped cars before," Newgarden said. "We probably need to have a discussion about how we handle it again."
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course returns to action when the NASCAR Xfinity arrives for the Mid-Ohio Challenge on Aug. 11-12.
Here are the full results of Sunday's race:
Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Mikhail Aleshin, Max Chilton, Tony Kanaan, JR Hildebrand, Carlos Munoz, Spencer Pigot , Edetban Gutierrez, Ed Jones.
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