Listen Live
Josef Newgarden at St. Pete

Source: Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment / other

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Josef Newgarden said at IndyCar’s last off-season test at Sebring a week ago that St. Petersburg is always about getting off to a good start to the season. There is no better way to start the season than with a win.

Leading 92 of the race’s 100 laps, Newgarden dominated the day as he cruised to his 30th career win in the NTT IndyCar Series. The win is validation for him given Team Penske’s lack of performance on road and street courses last season.

“I had a lot of fun today,” Newgarden said after the race. “Roger was telling me ‘You have a big lead. Don’t turn right into the wall’. It’s so deserving for the team, this win. We’ve worked really hard to close the gap on road and street courses.”

The victory for Newgarden does one better for him over legendary Team Penske driver Rick Mears when it comes to career wins.

The race would be the first time the drivers would be subjected to new tire compounds. This year’s black primary tire brought by Firestone is one grade harder than last year’s primary compound. The alternate tire is essentially last year’s primary and is made of the new guayule (pronounced: WHY-you-LEE) rubber compound.

It was a craps shoot at the beginning as most drivers started the race on the harder, but slower, black primaries. Newgarden was among those as he led the race’s first 26 laps from the pole position with Felix Rosenqvist in tow. The P2 start for Roseqvist was indicative of many team improvements during the off-season in his move to Meyer Shank Racing.

However, after an initial caution brought on by Marcus Armstrong losing grip in Turn 10, Rosenqvist, who started on the green alternates switched to the black primaries and his car dropped like a stone in water through the field. Newgarden had a slow stop during those first pitstops, but he made quick work of the field on the restart regaining the lead a few laps later.

The battle then became one between Newgarden and Pato O’Ward, who did not win a single race last year and is now the third highest-paid driver in the paddock.

Another caution for Sting Ray Robb’s brake failure would not deter Newgarden either. In fact, all the cautions helped Newgarden as he continued to save fuel and after his final stop under the green flag with 34 laps left in the race, a caution would come out two laps later.

The race played into every facet of Newagarden-and-team’s strategy as by the time the white flag waved, Newgarden had an 8-second lead on O’Ward. Adding insult to injury for the rest of the field: Newgarden’s teammates Scott McLaughlin and Will Power batted forward to occupy three of the top five spots in the finishing order.

McLaughlin came across third and Power fourth.

The victory sets the tone for the season that Newgarden alluded to at Sebring. But, Newgarden will have to hold onto that momentum for a month and a half as the series will not have another points race until April 21st at Long Beach.

Sandwiched in between will be the $1 Million exhibition race at The Thermal Club in California on March 24th.