MADISON, Ill. — Once again the rain provided IndyCar fans with a wild finish this season as Josef Newgarden’s bold decision to pit for the rain instead of the race distance paid off.
Newgarden survived a late push by his teammate Scott McLaughlin and rookie driver David Malukas in the last 30 laps of the Bommarito 500 to earn his fifth win of the season, his fourth at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Will Power started on the pole trying to maintain his lead in the championship standings coming into the race. He led virtually every lap through the first 150 laps as most cars were in a fuel-save strategy in order to make it to the end of the race’s 260 laps on three pitstops.
“Literally every car just went to fuel save. Everyone wanted to try to make the three-stop work,” Newgarden said. “As soon as that caution 150, 155, something like that, when it provided that opportunity to pit again, it changed things up, put people on different strategies. That made it really exciting.”
The caution was for Jack Harvey, who swipe the outside wall of turn four causing him to damage his suspension and slow down. That is when Newgarden, McLaughlin, Malukas, and a few other drivers pitted off sequence with impending rain showers barring down on the race track.
The strategy would pay off in the short term as McLaughlin and Newgarden motored their way to the front on fresher tires.
With 43 laps left the race was stopped due to moisture on the racing surface, That moisture turned into full-on rain that would hold the race up for a couple of hours. Many were left wondering if IndyCar officials would call the race since it was over halfway.
However, the rain departed and the track was dried, setting up a 40-lap sprint to the finish under the lights.
Once the green flag waived, Newgarden seized the opportunity to overtake his teammate.
“It’s a little bittersweet because we have a great friendship,” Newgarden said of passing McLaughlin for the lead. “He’s a tremendous competitor. I rank Scott as one of the most elite drivers in the world, not just here but in the world. He’s top class. Very difficult to beat.”
Newgarden would remain virtually unchallenged the rest of the way as McLaughlin would then have his hands full with the young Malukas who pitted on the same strategy as the two Penske’s. he was hungry for his first podium finish.
“I saw them go through one and two. Oh, my God, they’re Penskes,” Malukas said of the position he found himself in late in the race. “I’m going behind Penskes right now. This is crazy! I was trying so hard to not get nervous. I mean, I was nervous, but I was trying so hard not to get overexcited and do something stupid.”
He did quite the opposite, passing McLaughlin in a brilliant move on the outside of turn one and holding his line for a full lap on the outside of McLaughlin to eventually take over second place.
Newgarden would never be challenged by Malukas as he took the checkered flag for his 25 career IndyCar Series win, tying him with Gordon Johncock in career wins
The win also leapfrogged Newgarden from fifth to second in the championship standings behind Power, now sitting just 3-points behind his teammate heading into their next race in Portland in just two weeks’ time.