If a car ends up in your flower bed, your day is likely going to be an unforgettable one.
At Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, a car ended up in the flowers at the circuit. What happened after was one of the most exciting IndyCar races in the modern era.
Josef Newgarden dodged the chaos, avoiding sending his car into the garden outside the famous Long Beach fountain, and found victory lane for his first back-to-back IndyCar victories since 2017.
Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta took pole position in Saturday’s qualifiers and spent much of the early part of the race in the lead. Multiple teams in the garage area, as well as NBC commentator James Hinchcliffe, speculated it would take some kind of first turn lunge from another driver or a self-inflicted mistake to beat Herta on Sunday.
Herta suffered two mistakes in the race. His first was a small error on pit road, where he darted for the wrong pit stall during the first pit cycle of the day, which may have thrown his crew off. Of the top three cars — including Newgarden and Alex Palou — Herta had the slowest stop, and he dropped from first to third in the running order.
Herta’s second error came after his second pit stop. While still on cold tires, Herta hit a bump in the braking zone leading into turn nine, and he slid past the apex and into the concrete barrier. His race was over from that point on, and the most dominant car all weekend was out before the final third of the race.
Newgarden picked up where Herta left off, and he took the lead. Even when Herta seemed to be driving away from the pack early on, Newgarden was the only car that kept close to him.
Through a series of challenges from Palou and later Romain Grosjean, and a series of cautions which included Simon Pagenaud ending up in the flower garden around the fountain at turn three, Newgarden kept the lead.
Newgarden’s final defense of the lead came in the final six laps, after Grosjean was able to pull alongside Newgarden into turn one. Newgarden kept the inside line, however, and he was able to beat Grosjean to turn two. Grosjean wasn’t able to materialize another challenge for the lead, and when Takuma Sato’s car got stuck in the turn nine tire barrier, race officials threw the caution flag, and Newgarden was the winner.
In the last race at Texas, Newgarden pulled off the last lap pass for the win over his Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin. This time, Newgarden drove a masterful race, keeping himself out of trouble on the famous street circuit and avoiding any race-killing mistakes like Herta.
With the win, Newgarden moved into first in the standings, taking a five-point lead over McLaughlin who had a poor day, including a spin at the tight hairpin final corner.
Team Penske hasn’t lost an IndyCar race yet this year. The next section of the schedule is brutal, with no weeks off between the races from May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama to June 12 at Road America in Wisconsin. In the middle of this upcoming six-week stretch? The Greatest Spectacle In Racing: the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Newgarden hasn’t won the Indy 500 yet. Neither has McLaughlin, Palou or Herta, the dominant figures in the IndyCar series this year. The pressure of having a zero next to your name at Indianapolis can be overwhelming, and Newgarden has been close a few times in his racing career but has not pulled it out yet.
Momentum is everything come May, and Newgarden has more than anyone else in the IndyCar field.