Josef Newgarden was caught off guard by a reporter’s question on Saturday after qualifying second for the NTT IndyCar race as part of the 2022 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“When does (Colton) Herta check out tomorrow?”
Herta, who won on Long Beach’s downtown street course in September when the race was rescheduled, entered Sunday as the overwhelming favorite for the 85-lap race. That wasn’t enough to ding Newgarden’s confidence.
“I went to bed last night thinking about that question,” Newgarden said. “I told myself, ‘He’s not going to do that.’”
Newgarden looked prophetic on Sunday as he took advantage of a Herta crash to win his first race in Long Beach. He has been racing at the Grand Prix for 11 years.
“It’s an honor to win here,” Newgarden said. “This place is a crown jewel of our sport.”
Newgarden, who is a former NTT IndyCar series champion, won the last IndyCar event at Texas Motor speedway. This is his first consecutive win in five years. It’s also the first Team Penske and Chevrolet wins in Long Beach since 2016.
“This is incredibly special and this place is a hard nut to crack,” Newgarden said. “It’s a lot of pressure like the Indy 500. It does mean more than other tracks. That adds to the difficulty.”
Newgarden has found success in Long Beach before as a top 10 finisher in every race here since 2015.
“We had to really work for it today,” Newgarden added. “It wasn’t easy by any means.”
The crowd was huge again as the race returned to its regularly scheduled April slot for the first time since 2019.
“Last year was great to finish the year here,” Palou said. “It’s an amazing event, an amazing atmosphere and all the energy we got from the fans on the parade lap was great.”
“The positive trend in pre-sales continued through race weekend and the preliminary results would indicate that the attendance and gross revenue figures will match or exceed what was achieved at the pre-pandemic race in 2019,” Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President and CEO Jim Michaelian said. “That year, the attendance figure was slightly more than 187,000. Final results should be available within the next few days. A big thank you to all of our fans who came out to support us and we’ll be back (next) April.”
After setting the record for the fastest lap ever in Saturday’s qualifying round, Herta came out out of the gates clean and comfortably led for the first 30 laps until the first pit stops.
Two-time race winner Alexander Rossi made an early move into fourth place in the 21st lap after making contact with Felix Rosenqvist. However, Rossi was passed by Marcus Ericsson on lap 25 and eventually finished eighth.
Herta was maintaining a 1.5 second lead over Newgarden when he went into the pits first. Newgarden waited and went to the pits on the 31st lap and the strategy paid off as he just edged Herta on turn one to take over first place.
There were a handful of spin outs and near crashes from guys like Scott McLaughlin and Simon Pagenaud, who ended up in the flowers surrounding the dolphin fountain at turn two, creating an extra amount of debris on the track.
Again the top of the board shifted because of pit stops. With 50 laps to go, Palou had the best pit stop of the day at around 7.5 seconds and that was good enough to push him past Newgarden.
Palou, who clinched his NTT IndyCar series championship in Long Beach in September, led by more than two seconds before and after his last pit stop. However, Herta locked his brakes up and he went into the wall at turn nine at the very end of his in lap.
“I feel bad because we had a great car and I just did too much,” Herta said.
Newgarden was in front of Herta, and had time to get into the pits first with 28 laps left. That helped him narrowly beat out Palou at turn one to take the lead for good.
“It was no doubt nerve wracking,” Newgarden said of the close calls coming out of the pits and the restarts. “But the key is to use it and not letting that consume you.”
At that time, Newgarden had more than twice as much push to pass left than any of the cars around him. Each driver receives 200 seconds of push to pass boost, and they can only use 20 seconds at a time.
With 16 laps remaining, Grosjean used the rest of his push to pass boost to overtake Palou on the outside at turn one. This is his fourth podium finish in IndyCar.
“Honestly, the Chevy’s were faster in the straightaways,” Grosjean said. “I just couldn’t catch (Newgarden).”
Palou started third and finished third for his ninth podium finish in three years of IndyCar. He also finished second at St. Petersburg to start this season.
“It was a good battle and he won today,” Palou said of Newgarden. “It was a good day for us. I was not surprised (to be in first) and the strategy in the pits worked really well.”
Newgarden was comfortably leading when Jimmy Johnson caused a full course caution by going into the tires at turn eight because of what he called, “inches of rubber around the track.”
The restart with five laps to go was relatively uneventful with Newgarden easily holding his lead.
Tacoma Sato also going into the tires at turn eight with two laps left forced the race to finish under caution.
“(Newgarden) wasn’t making many mistakes,” Grosjean said. “Obviously no one wants to end under yellow, but at that point it was pretty much over.”
Newgarden is now 20th on the all-time list with 22 IndyCar victories.