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Josef Newgarden hangs on for second straight dramatic Texas Motor Speedway victory

Sunday’s PPG 375 from Texas Motor Speedway was the first NTT IndyCar Series race of 2023 on an oval, and arriving with a new downforce rules package for the speedways this season, many eyes in the paddock were on the slightly-abrasive 1.5-mile circuit. The new configuration of aerodynamics allowed closer racing in the final stages of the 375-mile affair Sunday afternoon as the series tried to race weather in the Dallas/Fort Worth-area.

Josef Newgarden (2) leads Pato O’Ward (5) around Texas Motor Speedway after trading the lead during Sunday’s PPG 375. (Picture Credit: Chris Owens / IMS Media & Penske Entertainment)

The man on a mission was the 23-year-old driver in Patricio O’Ward, cruising around the 24-degree banked oval much faster than anyone else for the majority of the 600-kilometer race. Pato, driving the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and off a heart-breaking defeat in the season-opening St. Petersburg Grand Prix out of his control, lapped every car running (say for Josef Newgarden) in the middle stint yesterday.

With his No. 5 Chevy, O’Ward was in front for a total of 91 circuits, but it wasn’t enough yet again for the Monterey, Mexico-born driver. Cautions began clicking off one by one in the final 60 laps, erasing the Mexican’s large lead over Newgarden and allowing several of his closest competitors to return to his race-leading lap.

O’Ward’s Arrow Electronics No. 5 passes Newgarden’s PPG Paints No. 2 through the quad-oval frontstretch in Texas. (Picture: Chris Jones / IMS & Penske)

This set the stage for a dramatic run to the checkered flag, with four yellow flags flying between Lap 179 and the twin checkereds. Different tire strategies also played into effect during the run to the finish, with Romain Grosjean being on six lap fresher tires in the last stint to the end.

Sunday’s PPG 375 wasn’t accident-free, as Takuma Sato, Sting Ray Robb and Felix Rosenqvist all found themselves striking the outside wall during the race, but none were as freighenting as Graham Rahal’s collision with a wounded car piloted by Devlin DeFrancesco.

The incident brought those watching back to reality of the excess-220MPH speeds all 28 drivers were pushing around the tight confides that is the racing surface at Texas Motor Speedway. For the second straight race, the No. 29 Andretti Steinbreinner Autosport Honda tested lift-off — this time, sending Grahal Rahal sky-first into turn four retaining wall.

After a brush with the second turn’s SAFER barrier upon corner exit, DeFrancesco immediately recoginized the broken suspension on his No. 29 entry, however, failed to scrub off enough speed before attempting to pit at the series’ backstraight pit entrance. The damaged Dallara piloted by the Canadian-Italian shot his green machine straight back into the race traffic, leaving no path to escape for Rahal. Fortunately, after coming back to Earth and a smack into the wall, Rahal climbed from his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

That was the final incident of the race until Grosjean racing for the win lost the handle of his Andretti Autosport No. 28, overcorrected and hit the second turn’s SAFER barrier, as well. The crash for the Swiss-born Frenchman not only eliminated him for racing for the win, but stopped the green-flag action short for his competitors, as the collision occurred with just a lap and a half remaining.

At the time of the crash, Newgarden had just passed O’Ward as the top five contenders continuously swapped positions amongst themselves, setting up for an IRL-esque finish. O’Ward drag raced Newgarden to the finish line to take the four laps to go mark, and just edged the two-time series champion to claim the next two laps as his, but had tucked in line behind Newgarden at the time of the Grosjean accident to set-up a last-lap pass.

As the field took the checkered flags and caution together, Newgarden lassoed in his second straight victory at TMS while a distraught O’Ward slotted to the top spot in the championship standings. Alex Palou rounded out the podium finishers, while David Malukas once again impressed on a high-speed oval, taking home fourth.

Newgarden and his No. 2 Team Penske crew celebrates post-race in SpeedyCash Victory Lane. (Picture: Chris Jones / IMS & Penske)

Scott Dixon is now the all-time record holder for Top-5 finishes in the history of INDYCAR after yesterday’s Texas trip. The 42-year-old Kiwi notched his 194th-career finish of 5th or better, breaking a tie set last race between he and Mario Andretti. The New Zealand driver surpassed the Nazareth, Pennsylvianian as the winningest driver in the sport’s history with a win in the Music City Grand Prix last August in Nashville.

The 2022 Texas bridesmaid of Scott McLaughlin had an off-day in the saddle. Qualifying 15th and finding himself running in 18th at the start, the three-time Supercars Champion quietly knocked off passes throughout the attrition of the event, and was among those mixing it up late in the final stint, despite losing a lap to O’Ward throughout the day.

28 cars started the 375-miler, the most for any race outside of the Indianapolis 500 in the series since the 2011 championship. When the checkered flag flew, seven cars completed the 250-lap race distance while 21 remained on-track of the 28 starters.

Race Results – 2023 PPG 375 from Texas Motor Speedway

1 – (2) Josef Newgarden / 26th Career IndyCar Victory (Third in Texas)
2 – (5) Pato O’Ward / 15th Career IndyCar Podium
3 – (10) Alex Palou / 16th Career IndyCar Podium
4 – (18) David Malukas
5 – (9) Scott Dixon / 194th Career IndyCar Top-5
6 – (3) Scott McLaughlin
7 – (26) Colton Herta
8 – (8) Marcus Ericsson / -1 Lap
9 – (77) Callum Illott / -1 Lap
10 – (06) Helio Castroneves / -1 Lap
11 – (21) Rinus VeeKay / -1 Lap
12 – (78) Agustin Canapino [R] / -1 Lap / Oval Debut
13 – (33) Ed Carpenter / -1 Lap
14 – (28) Romain Grosjean / -2 Laps
15 – (55) Benjamin Pedersen [R] / -2 Laps
16 – (12) Will Power / -2 Laps
17 – (60) Simon Pagenaud / -3 Laps
18 – (30) Jack Harvey / -3 Laps
19 – (45) Christian Lundgaard / -3 Laps
20 – (20) Conor Daly / -4 Laps
21 – (14) Santino Ferrucci / -4 Laps
22 – (7) Alexander Rossi / -7 Laps
23 – (29) Devlin DeFrancesco / -29 Laps
24 – (15) Graham Rahal / -31 Laps
25 – (51) Sting Ray Robb [R] / -42 Laps
26 – (6) Felix Rosenqvist / -73 Laps
27 – (27) Kyle Kirkwood / -153 Laps
28 – (11) Takuma Sato / -204 Laps

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