Josef Newgarden finally managed to break 2021’s Team Penske curse during Sunday’s IndyCar race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Whether luck was on his side, his skill finally triumphed, or he had some extra good vibes due to the fact that this weekend signals Team Penske’s 50th anniversary since its first-ever win, the driver finally took the race win he’s been so close to nabbing several times this year.
Polesitter Josef Newgarden got an incredible start over the rest of the field, taking advantage of his ability to pace the field by getting a massive jump. The field bunched up behind him, sending the field three wide for third place behind Colton Herta. As drivers backed off, Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe ran into the back of his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had checked up behind Graham Rahal. They collected Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist in the mess, bringing out the first caution of the day. Hunter-Reay was left to undergo massive repairs.
REPLAY: Incident shortly after the green flag on lap 1 at @Mid_Ohio.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) July 4, 2021
Meanwhile, Patricio O’Ward and Santino Ferrucci both took advantage of the bunched up field to launch up six places each.
The field went green again ahead of lap four, this time with the grid spread out. Scott Dixon and Will Power had a competitive battle for fourth place when the two made contact. Power spun and his car was abandoned on the middle of the track, with the rest of the field forced to try to find a clear line through the dust. Most drivers made it through the mess, but Dale Coyne Racing driver Ed Jones had nowhere to go; he crashed right into Power and had to limp away. It brought out yet another caution.
Another green flag attempt was made starting on lap nine, with Newgarden continuing to lead the field — and this time it stuck. Romain Grosjean proved to be on a tear, making several passes before running a little wide into the gravel. He caught himself and managed to defend against Pato O’Ward, thus holding his 11th place position. He re-passed Scott McLaughlin for 10th just one lap later, and Sebastien Bourdais was forced to give up a position to the former F1 driver for unnecessarily blocking him.
Meanwhile, O’Ward, another hard charger, had pushed his way up to 10th, meaning he’d moved up 10 positions from the start of the race.
Leader Newgarden made his first stop on lap 31, a little later than some of his competition. He took the primary tire, whereas some of his competition would be making their second stint on the faster red tire.
Herta inherited the lead and stopped a lap later only to suffer a problem with his fuel. He sat there for 25 seconds, dropping him back down into eighth. His second pit stop saw him stall the car and have to restart; as a result, he lost more positions.
With 10 laps to go, many of the second pit stops had been completed, and the top five saw Newgarden, Marcus Ericsson, Alex Palou, Dixon, and Rossi holding down the fort. As the laps faded away, though, Ericsson began to chase down the leader of the race; with Newgarden’s luck this season, it was a legitimate fear that the Team Penske driver would once again fail to take that win — especially as Newgarden ran into lapped traffic.
Much to Team Penske’s delight, the American driver crossed the finish line first. It was a fitting tribute to the team; fifty years ago yesterday, Mark Donohue scored Team Penske’s first-ever win at Pocono. If there was any race to win, it would be this one.