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Monday, Feb. 26
The Indiana Daily Student

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COLUMN: Josef Newgarden wins thrilling PPG 375 at Texas


Well, that sure was one of the more entertaining IndyCar races in quite a while. With recent races at Texas lacking passing, I was not expecting this year’s edition to be as good as it was, but, man — I sure enjoyed every second of it.

Sunday’s PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway was an action-packed 250-lap race that saw Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in victory lane for the second consecutive year.

In the beginning, the high lane was being used frequently with each driver having fresh Firestone tires, but I figured that as the tires began to degrade, we would see yet another one of those single-file Texas races that we have become so accustomed to seeing in the past few years. But wow — I was wrong with that assumption, as there were several times throughout the race when drivers went to the high lane to make a pass.

The first caution of the day was on lap 48, when Chip Ganassi Racing’s Takuma Sato was too high up the track, getting into the marbles and colliding with the wall to end his day. It’s unfortunate that Sato had a poor showing as he is only scheduled to drive in the five oval races this season.

During the same caution, there was an incident on the pit road between Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood and Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi. As Rossi was leaving his pit box, Kirkwood was going into his and the two made contact.

Rossi, at the time, was given a pass-through penalty for an unsafe release from his pit box, but IndyCar has since changed the penalty ruling to contact with another car. The decision from IndyCar race control was highly criticized, but I totally agree with race control: I believe it was the right call, as Kirkwood was pulling into his pit box in the same manner that every driver does. He remained in the fast lane of the pit road as all drivers are instructed to do and he moved into the transition lane within three pit boxes of his own.

On lap 129, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward passed Newgarden in the outside lane, showing the capabilities of his car. On lap 160, O’Ward lapped Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean to leave just Newgarden and himself on the lead lap, making it look as if O’Ward was on his way to a blowout victory.

Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist got up into the marbles in Turn 4, just as Sato did in Turn 2, ending his day early after a promising start from pole position. The caution allowed many drivers to take the wave around, helping them to unlap themselves.

On the same lap that the leaders approached the start-finish line to take the green flag after the caution, Newgarden had a run on O’Ward and looked to the outside to complete the pass. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou had a run on both drivers, making the pass one of the most entertaining moments in the race.

With just 41 laps to go, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sting Ray Robb hit the wall on the backstretch, bringing the caution out and allowing leaders to pit for fresh tires. Palou and his team decided against pitting, a decision which I thought would cost him a good finish in the race as the rest of the leaders would have fresher tires. I was totally wrong about that assumption, though, as Palou finished in the third position.

A collision between Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal and Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco brought out the next caution with 27 laps to go. The caution bunched the leaders back up for a 12-lap run to the finish.

Those final 12 laps were some of the best and most entertaining IndyCar racing that I have seen in some time with a captivating battle between O’Ward and Newgarden. Unfortunately, Grosjean spun at the beginning of the backstretch with two laps to go, bringing the caution out and causing a great race to sadly end under yellow.

Although he had a rough showing in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 5, Newgarden captured his third win at Texas in the past four seasons, showing he is once again a championship favorite. And despite the disappointing second-place finish after dominating a majority of the race, O’Ward now stands at the top of the championship standings with a seven-point gap between himself and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson.

Sunday’s race at Texas proved IndyCar has the most entertaining on-track racing product. Sure, Formula 1 has the big names on the grid and all the “hype” beforehand, but the racing is okay at best. Some of my friends watch F1 and have never watched an IndyCar race before, but if they want to see the best and most entertaining racing in the world, IndyCar is it.

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