Newgarden cruises to Road America win
ELKHART LAKE, Wis.
Josef Newgarden put in a lot of work to make his win at Road America look easy.
With no caution flags all afternoon to slow him down, the pole-sitting Newgarden finally pulled away late from Ryan Hunter-Reay for a comfortable victory.
Newgarden led 53 of 55 laps, crossing the finish line with a 3.38-second cushion over second-place finisher Hunter-Reay for his third win of the season.
“We had our work cut out for us today,” Newgarden said. “We had to be perfect.”
The defending series champion savored the victory in the 222-mile-long Kohler Grand Prix on his cool-down lap, taking in the crowd at the rural Wisconsin road course. Newgarden has such a devoted following here that fans planted a garden in his honor in time for this weekend’s race.
“These people have a professional garden set up with little ‘Baby Josefs’ growing,” Newgarden said with a smile. “It was kind of cool.”
The victory might have been more satisfying. It completed an impressive weekend for the Team Penske driver at the 14-turn track, where Newgarden’s No. 1 Chevy registered the top speed in practice.
Points leader Scott Dixon finished third. He was part of the three-car pack led by Newgarden that separated from the field with about 13 laps left.
They couldn’t catch Newgarden. He returned to the podium following a five-race stretch finishing no higher than eighth.
“No concern, just ready to go win,” Newgarden said when asked about the previous five races. “Our outlook didn’t really change.”
What might be considered a slump for Newgarden came to an emphatic end. He picked up his 10th career victory and first at Road America.
After staying within about 1 second of Newgarden for much of the race, Hunter-Reay lost ground when Newgarden’s car got a fresh set of tires on his last pit stop. Newgarden said he felt good about his chance with about eight laps left.
“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint. We were focused on a fuel number at the time,” Hunter-Reay said. “Unfortunately, that Penske fuel number comes into play [and you] can’t really go hard.”
A caution-free race also worked to Newgarden’s advantage, with the field unable to reset from a restart. It was the ninth start-to-finish, green-flag race at Road America.
“I was hoping for a yellow (flag) to mix things up,” Hunter-Reay said. “It never came through.”
It still didn’t make for a stress-free day for Newgarden, with Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Honda chasing the Penske car down all afternoon.