FORT WORTH, Texas. — In was will be remembered as one of the most exciting races in recent memory, Josef Newgarden clawed his way to the front to win the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, outlasting a battle with Pato O’Ward down the stretch.
With 10 laps to go, the drivers restarted after a wreck between Graham Rahal and Devlin DeFrancesco would force a late race shootout between several different drivers vying for the lead.
Newgarden was in second at the start of the final lap, but as he nudged ahead the caution would come out with Romain Grosjean wrecking behind them. The field was then frozen at the moment of the caution scoring Newgarden as the leader.
“I’m so happy for our team,” Newgarden said. “Pato gave me all the respect in the world. It was just really hard to fight these guys. It was packed up and very difficult to get away. The car was in it in the end!”
Newgarden started fourth behind Felix Rosenqvist who was on the pole for the second year in a row at Texas. Scott Dixon and O’Ward were also ahead of Newgarden. But, it would be O’Ward and Newgarden who went right to the front and would stay there for the duration of the race.
Takuma Sato, in his season debut in an oval-only ride with Chip Ganassi, brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 54 which would sure the first round of pit stops. That round of pit stops would help with fuel strategy as all drivers went full-go for the next stint, allowing Alex Palou to sneak into the top five and battle Newgarden for the lead.
Back in the field, Scott McLaughlin would try to gain track position by forcing an undercut and pitting early. Newgarden followed suit. O’Ward pitted two laps later giving Newgarden a big gap once everyone had pitted.
That gap would not last long as O’Ward’s adjustments allowed him to not only overtake Newgarden but drive away from him. In doing so, O’Ward and Newgarden would lap nearly the whole field. By lap 150 only 5 cars were on the lead lap. By lap 160, there were three cars on the lead lap.
“I needed something to catch back up,” Newgarden said. “That was my worst stint, but when we needed the car in the end it was there.”
More pitstops ensued and O’Ward kept his massive lead, but his teammate, Rosenqvist, brought out the caution on Lap 179 with a crash, bunching the field back up and creating a conundrum for the drivers when it comes to fuel strategy.
Everyone came back in for fresh tires and more fuel. But with the extended caution for cleaning the track as well, Newgarden would come back in three laps later for more fuel, a brilliant strategic move that allowed him to be able to go all out to the end. O’Ward did not pit and was in a precarious position having to save fuel.
Newgarden regained the lead, but a few laps later another caution came out with Sting Ray Robb hard into the wall. This caution bailed out O’Ward who was able to get back on sequence with the rest of the field.
The subsequent restart was short-lived as well with the crash between Rahal and DeFrancesco bunching up the field with 15 laps to go. The final ten laps were a drag race with any five drivers vying for the race lead.
Newgarden would prevail getting his third career win at Texas, his second in a row, and his 26th career IndyCar Series win. O’Ward would come home with his second straight runner-up finish having finished second at St. Petersburg a month earlier.
“It’s been a hell of a start to the year,” O’Ward said.” The guys gave me a rocket ship It’s been an absolute joy to drive. We’ve had to second places, Still looking for that win this year, but it’s a great start and that’s what we need.”
Alex Palou rounded out the podium in 3rd. Despite some troubles saving fuel late, David Malukas was able to hold on for a fourth-place finish and Scott Dixon was fifth.
Helio Castroneves has a top-ten finish in 10th despite starting 21st. And rookie Agustin Canapino was 12th in his first-ever oval race after starting 19th.
Drivers will have a week off ahead of the next race on the schedule at Long Beach. Pato O’Ward takes over the points lead over Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon, and Josef Newgarden two races into the season.
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