Trailing teammate Simon Pagenaud late in the inaugural Bommarito Automotive Group 500, Josef Newgarden’s risky move proved to be the right one Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park.
The 26-year-old Newgarden went past Pagenaud on lap 218 of the 248 lap main event, then held off fast-closing Scott Dixon to take the checkered flag. The race, which drew an estimated crowd of 35,000 fans, mark the return of IndyCar racing to Gateway Motorsports Park for the first time since 2003.
The race featured 13 lead changes — the last one featuring two Team Penske teammates, which also provided a little controversy.
Taking the lead on lap 206, Pagenaud still had a narrow advantage when Newgarden went low coming off of turn one. Using the tightest of quarters, the Nashville, Tennessee native got past Pagenaud for the 13th and final lead change of the race.
“For me, I think what allowed the pass to happen was Simon left me a lane. I took the lane. That’s about as far as I was going to get up on him. We ran hard into the corner. Had to check up and both got through there,” Newgarden said. “I did see a replay and we did touch. I moved over on him one time. But that was right as the corner was closing. I didn’t want to jump the curb because if I would have stayed full left, I think I would have jumped the curb.
“I kind of was hoping he would open the door a little more when I was alongside of him. He didn’t open it any further. I feel like if I didn’t move him just a touch, if I jump the curb, we both would have been in the wall. If anything, that was a good thing.”
It turned out to be a very good thing for Newgarden, who won his fourth race of the season and seventh of his career. He increased his IndyCar Series points lead over Dixon.
Pagenaud and fan favorite Helio Castroneves placed third and fourth and gave Team Penske another good showing as it claimed three of the top four places.
Castroneves, who won the last Indy Car event at Gateway in 2003, led for 52 laps Saturday. During that time, he became the fourth driver in IndyCar Series history to lead for 6,000 laps.
Pagenaud was less than thrilled with how Newgarden took the lead and eventually the race.
“I think if it wasn’t me, he (Newgarden) would be in the fence with somebody else. That’s what I’ve got to say,” Pagenaud said. “But, you know, overall I’m pretty happy with the night. Obviously I wanted to win. We all want to win. Sometimes, you know, it is what it is.”
The fourth Team Penske driver, Will Power, had the pole after posting the top qualifying time Friday. But Power was involved in an accident with Ed Carpenter on the sixth lap and was forced to drop out.
Conor Daly rounded out the top five.
Big night for Gateway
Gateway Motorsports Park owner and CEO Curtis Francois was praised the race and return of IndyCar to the metro-east.
“The crowd was amazing,” Pagenaud said. “A really amazing event. I think the track did a phenomenal job at, you know, repaving the place. It was really a proper track for IndyCar, I have to say. A lot of fun to drive.”
Newgarden went one step further in his words for the facility.
“Yeah, it was a great night. We had first off an awesome crowd. It was amazing actually what was out here tonight. I felt like the energy for this event, it really spurred everyone on. You should have seen all the drivers. I felt like everyone was a little extra nervous tonight because of the energy in this place,” Newgarden said. “A lot of that is down to St. Louis, all the promoters here at Gateway, everything at the track, the sponsors at the track have done to try to get people out here and come back to this race. It’s fun to see it back here.”