Late tire strategy seals victory for Newgarden at ISM Raceway, Wickens impresses in oval debut

JGS 2018-PHOENIX-51957-1

By Christian Ryan

Races are won and lost on pit road, and the 2018 Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix was no exception as defending series champion Josef Newgarden utilizes late-race pit strategy to take the win at at ISM Raceway Saturday night.

The Team Penske driver elected to pit after Ed Jones hit the wall to bring out the caution, giving him a fresh tire advantage over the leaders. Newgarden charged to the outside for the lead late, moving from fourth to second into the first turn on the final restart before hunting down and overtaking leader Robert Wickens with four laps remaining. “I think it was a team win tonight,” Newgarden said of his pit crew’s efficiency and strategy. “I don't know that I deserved to win the race tonight, but think the team did. They did a really good job on strategy, pit stops were unbelievable.”

The victory marked Newgarden’s eighth career win, with half of those coming in the last eight Verizon IndyCar Series races.

Series rookie Robert Wickens continues to impress in the early stages of his IndyCar career, claiming the podium finish many felt he deserved in St. Petersburg. Giving up the lead late in the race, Wickens appeared right at home in his oval racing debut. Proving that he could overcome the biggest obstacle coming in from his previous racing experience, the future is looking bright for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver.

“I feel like I'm setting the bar a little bit high for myself,” Wickens said, post-race. “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.”

Wickens would share the podium with Alexander Rossi, with whom he made contact fighting for the win in the season opener. Rossi rallied for the third place finish after a slip up on pit road, marking his second consecutive podium finish to start the 2018 season. For Rossi,  sharing the podium with Wickens was overdue and bodes well for the remainder of the year.

“Rob should definitely have two podiums right now,” he said, setting up a possible season-long battle between the three drivers on the podium. “It's good to be here with him, and obviously Josef has proved what he's capable of already, carrying the No. 1. Yeah, we all have a very long season ahead of us.”

Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five finishers, with Wickens’ teammate and countryman James Hinchcliffe coming in sixth after trading the lead with Wickens in the latter half of the race. Dixon made a significant jump in the grid, finishing fourth after a 17th place start. In contrast, pole sitter and previous race winner Sebastien Bourdais finished 13th after an incident on pit road that saw him collide with a tire changer. His incident, coupled with Newgarden’s win, allowed Newgarden to move to the top of the series standings.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will have a quick turnaround this week, taking to the streets of Long beach, California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 15.

 

*All quotes sourced from official IndyCar press releases