FORT WORTH, Texas – Josef Newgarden figured if his team could get him out front, his first IndyCar victory in Texas would follow.
The first three-time winner in the series this year was right, despite Alexander Rossi trying really hard to prove him wrong.
Newgarden held off several late challenges from Rossi, eventually getting some separation over the final few laps to give Team Penske its 14th victory in the past 19 Texas races on Saturday night.
The 13th career win for Newgarden was set up when he stayed on the track longer than the other leaders before the final pit stop on a green flag with about 50 laps remaining on the 1 1/2-mile track.
Newgarden emerged as the surprise leader and held on after a wreck that knocked out defending Texas champion Scott Dixon, who got tangled with 19-year-old Colton Herta with 20 laps to go.
“I’m telling you, if you look at those five or so laps I pumped out,” said Newgarden, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg and again last weekend in the first of two in Detroit.
“I knew it. I was like, `Man, we’re going to have a good set of laps here to pump out and just jump everybody.’ That’s what we did. It was really well-executed. It was really well-planned.”
Newgarden, whose previous best finish in seven Texas starts was eighth, also got his first win on a high-speed oval.
But it didn’t come without a serious challenge from Rossi, who pulled even and got slightly past Newgarden on the front stretch several times over the closing laps. But Newgarden kept surging back in front going into the first turn, eventually cruising to a 0.8164-second win.
“We could get halfway around the outside and then we’d have to bail out,” Rossi said. “Could have maybe took a bit more of risk. Yeah, it was pretty low percentage. I didn’t think a lot of guys were making it happen. Ultimately then it became about trying to beat him for the line.”
Dixon and Herta were battling for second behind Newgarden when the youngster went underneath Dixon to try to pass on the backstretch. Herta’s right front tire touched the rear left of Dixon’s, sending both spinning up the track into the outside wall. Dixon ended up 17th, Herta 18th.
“I started to track down to close it off. It’s toward the end of the race,” Dixon said. “I saw his shadow on the apron, I’m like, `Oh, this isn’t going to work out.’ Sorry if it was my fault. I was pushing, trying to get the most out of it.”
Herta didn’t take it personally, thanking Dixon on Twitter for the apology while saying he felt “bad for the team as we were in it for the win there.”
Rossi narrowly avoided that crash, just getting underneath Herta’s sliding car on the bottom of the track to set up his showdown with Newgarden in the closing laps.
Pole-sitter Takuma Sato led the first 60 laps before a disastrous pit stop under a green flag resulted in the Japanese driver going four laps down.
Sato slid through his pit stall and upended crew member Chris Welch as the car ended up in the next stall. Crew members had to pull the car back to their stall before changing tires and refueling. Welch was evaluated and released from the infield care center.
In addition to all the time lost from the long pit stop, Sato was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for hitting Welch. The last driver to win from the pole at Texas was Ryan Briscoe in 2010.
Graham Rahal had a season-best finish of third, and Santino Ferrucci was fourth. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who led the most laps with 90, was fifth. Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud took sixth.
Pagenaud, Newgarden’s fellow Penske driver and the other multi-race winner this season with two victories, was the runner-up to Dixon in Texas last June.
Newgarden, who now has a 25-point lead over Rossi in the series standings, is up to seven top-10 finishes this season with one of his better tracks coming up at Road America near Milwaukee. He’s looking for his second series title.
“There’s tracks where you’re historically good, you go there and have an off year,” Newgarden said. “Things change, tires change, the car changes. We’ve just got to stay alert and aware of where we’re good and where we’re not.”
James Hinchcliffe was poised for his best finish of the season, running among the leaders and batting Herta for position at one point. But he lost control on the backstretch and hit the wall to create the second of three cautions. He finished 19th after failing to finish the second race of the Detroit doubleheader.
The series takes a week off after running three consecutive weekends before going to Road America on June 23.
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