Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden moved from fourth to first in the closing laps of Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix to capture his first career victory at ISM Raceway.
“Well, I was confident in the team,” said Newgarden. “I don’t think I did anything tonight. This was a team victory. They gave me the pit stops. They had the strategy. I was working with the rocket scientist (race strategist Tim Cindric) on the pit stand. Those guys are awesome, but it was a team effort. I wasn’t sure, you know you never know if you make the right call, but they did. They made the right call.”
After a caution on lap 230 for an incident involving Ed Jones, Newgarden came down pit road from the lead for fresh tires. The driver of the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet restarted fourth with six laps to go. Within a lap, he was up to second and hot on the heels of the leader, rookie Robert Wickens. Wickens put up a tough fight, but Newgarden reassumed the lead with three laps left and never looked back.
Wickens had a strong showing in his oval debut Saturday. The Canadian driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports led 44 of 250 laps en route to a second-place finish.
“My goal coming into this was to finish every lap,” said Wickens. “Even on that last restart, leading, knowing there is only the three of us that stayed out, my thought process didn’t really change. Even if I finished fifth, I would have been a little bit disappointed but still happy that I got even a top five on my first oval race. I feel like I’m setting the bar a little bit high for myself. But I never would have expected the first two races to go as well as they did. Hopefully we can get our season going now.
Newgarden and Wickens were joined on the podium by third-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who had a race-high 53 passes throughout the night. Rounding out the top five were former series champions Scott Dixon in fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay in fifth.
2018’s first race winner, Sebastien Bourdais, won the pole and led early, but lost ground on the first round of pit stops, when his car made contact with one of his tire changers. Though he recovered to finish the pit stop, Bourdais had to serve a pass-through penalty for the incident. He finished 13th.