Josef Newgarden won the rain-interrupted Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway, mastering the race within the race created by the weather delay and pulling even closer to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship lead.
Newgarden, from Nashville, Tennessee, drove to his series-leading fifth victory of the season in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet by .4708 of a second over rookie David Malukas, whose spirited charge after the race restarted fell just short in the No. 18 HMD Honda but still resulted in a career-best finish. This also was Newgarden’s third straight victory at this 1.25-mile oval in the shadows of the Gateway Arch.
“I was so happy we could finish this race,” Newgarden said. “Scott McLaughlin, he wanted to win, too. I love that about us. We have a good relationship. He drove me super fair there at the end.”
Two-time series champion Newgarden pulled to within three points of teammate and series leader Will Power in the race for the Astor Challenge Cup with just two races remaining. NTT P1 Award winner Power led a race-high 128 laps but finished sixth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Scott McLaughlin finished third in the No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet despite leading at the restart with 37 laps remaining after a red flag of two hours, nine minutes due to rain and lightning.
Pato O’Ward finished fourth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, while two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato placed fifth for his best result this season in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda.
The championship race remains taut and tense. Seven drivers are still mathematically eligible to win the title, with just 58 points – only four more than the maximum awarded at one race – separating leader Power from seventh-place O’Ward.
Up next is the Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, Sept. 4 at Portland International Raceway. The season ends with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The official distance of this race was 260 laps, but the rain delay almost made it feel like a 213-lap race in daylight followed by a 47-lap trophy dash under the lights.
When the race resumed at 9:05 p.m. local time, track conditions had changed significantly because the rain cleaned the asphalt and there was better grip due to lower temperatures after sundown.
The starting field returned to the track under caution after the red flag was lifted, and McLaughlin pulled away when the green flag flew on Lap 224. But Newgarden wasted no time tucking under McLaughlin’s gearbox on the back straightaway and dove under his teammate in Turn 3 on Lap 225, the first full lap after the restart, to take the lead for good.
“We just had to have a good start,” Newgarden said. “I knew Scott was going to be good at the end there, and he had a great restart. I just tried to work the high lane. The high lane worked earlier for me. We just had enough to get by him. He was no slouch this weekend.”
McLaughlin stayed within approximately six-tenths of a second of his teammate for the next 34 laps but couldn’t find a way past. Meanwhile, Malukas put the exclamation point on the most thrilling drive of his young career to advance from fifth at the restart to second at the finish.
Chicago-area native Malukas reached third place by passing O’Ward on Lap 245 and then set his sights on Newgarden and McLaughlin.
“We ended up getting around O’Ward and we ended up getting past a lapped car, and they (pit box) said, ‘You see them in front,’ and I saw two Penskes, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re Penskes!’ They were tough.”
While he never challenged Newgarden, Malukas passed McLaughlin for second on the final lap with a brave, full-send outside move in Turn 1, aided by the additional traction of the cooler temperatures and clean racetrack.
Malukas’ previous-best finish before this stirring result was eighth last month in the second race of the doubleheader at the Iowa Speedway oval.
Teams attempted various pit strategies in the second half of the race to try and be out front when the expected rain arrived, taking an unlikely win if the race didn’t restart. Malukas and Sato were on an alternate strategy that pushed Malukas to the lead from Laps 207-211, but he was forced to pit. The rain arrived just two laps later.
It appeared pit strategy and traffic may have foiled Newgarden just before the rain arrived.
McLaughlin pitted from second on Lap 207. Newgarden stopped one lap later from the lead but followed rookie Christian Lundgaard in the No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda into the pits, with Newgarden’s pit in lap clocking in at 1.065 seconds slower than McLaughlin’s. McLaughlin kept the lead when Newgarden blended back to the racetrack after his stop, holding the front until the red flag.