Josef Newgarden claims first win as Team Penske driver in Grand Prix of Alabama

By The Sports Xchange  |  April 23, 2017 at 8:02 PM
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LEEDS, Ala. -- Well, that didn't take Josef Newgarden long.

The rising star of the IndyCar Series won his first race with Team Penske in just his third start, this one coming in the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

Among current Team Penske drivers, Simon Pagenaud needed 19 races with Roger Penske's operation to get a win, Will Power needed five and Helio Castroneves needed seven. In 2004, Sam Hornish Jr. won in his first Penske start; Danny Sullivan won in his second for the team in 1985.

Penske hired Newgarden during the recent offseason to replace Juan Pablo Montoya. The move was highly regarded at the time, but it looks smarter with each lap Newgarden, 26, turns.

"He's not a rookie anymore," Castroneves said of the team's first-year driver. "That's why (Penske) keeps hiring young talent."

Newgarden's win on the permanent road course vaulted him to third in the standings after three races, and now a few ovals tracks suiting him -- Phoenix Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- await. The Phoenix race is Saturday night. Newgarden finished third in last year's Indianapolis 500.

Newgarden won for the fourth time in the series, the others in cars owned by Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter. One of those came two years ago at this track, another on the oval at Iowa Speedway when he led 282 of 300 laps with a broken hand. But obviously, winning for Penske made it all the more special, especially at the track closest to his home in Hendersonville, Tenn.

"That was an awesome day," he said. "This is what we work for as an entire group."

Here, Newgarden got the lead on Lap 77 of 90 when Power had to pit with a punctured tire.

Newgarden, who led the final 14 laps, admitted feeling bad for the pole winner, who finished 14th after leading 60 laps.

"I feel so bad for those boys on (Power's) car," Newgarden said. "They were on it today, and I feel like it would have been a great battle between Will, myself and Scott (Dixon). But it ended up just being Scott and myself."

Dixon finished second for the fifth time in eight races here. Pagenaud finished third and Castroneves fourth. Alexander Rossi, last year's Indianapolis 500 winner, was fifth.

A Penske driver won here for the fifth time, and its career win total in IndyCar increased to 188.

Newgarden put Chevrolet in victory lane for the first time this season; Honda had won in St. Petersburg, Fla., with Sebastien Bourdais and in Long Beach, Calif., with James Hinchcliffe.

Bourdais retained the series points lead. His advantage heading to Phoenix on Saturday night is six points on Dixon and seven on Newgarden.

This race was mostly calm, with light contact on the opening lap that broke Ryan Hunter-Reay's front wing end plate. Officials waited several laps to remove the debris; it wasn't immediately likely to be struck by another car.

The only other caution was for Spencer Pigot's spin without contact.

NOTES: Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso got his first look at the IndyCar Series when he spent Sunday with Andretti Autosport, the team fielding him in next month's Indianapolis 500. Alonso said his desire to try the 500 is centered on competing "against the best drivers and with the best and fastest cars in the world." Alonso will miss F1's prestigious Monaco race to run Indy. Alonso's first chance to drive an Indy car will come May 3 with a private test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will be asked to pass IndyCar's standard three-phase rookie test. ... Will Power's pole pushed his career total to 46. He is still fifth on the sport's all-time list, but he's back to within two of teammate Helio Castroneves (48). Bobby Unser holds the third spot with 49.

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