Josef Newgarden stands over the start/finish line with his trophy


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

Rookie Jack Harvey takes the track at the Firesetone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Five rookies up and five rookies to go! It’s part two of the #TrackTalk IndyCar rookie preview. Miss part one? Click here!

Jordan King: Ed Carpenter Racing [Part Time]

British open-wheel standout, Jordan King, made his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg. Inheriting the coveted road/street race-only ride with Ed Carpenter Racing, King made the most of his first start by qualifying fourth, and leading five laps. He finished 21st but showed he had the speed to mix it up with the veterans.

Rene Binder: Juncos Racing [Part Time]

Rookie driver and a rookie team- Mazda Road to Indy champions, Juncos Racing, will contend 10 races this season with Austria’s Rene Binder taking the wheel for six of those rounds. Binder spent 2017 in the World Series Formula V8 3.5 where he won four races and was teammates with fellow IndyCar rookie, Pietro Fittipaldi.

Kyle Kaiser: Juncos Racing [Part Time]

The 2017 Indy Lights champion takes his four-race (Indy Lights) championship bonus, and his team, to the IndyCar series for 2018. At time of writing Kaiser is scheduled to race Phoenix, Long Beach, the IndyCar Grand Prix, and the Indy 500. If sponsorship dollars materialize, then expect to see Kaiser and the team back later this season.

Jack Harvey: Michael Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports [Part Time]

Rookie Jack Harvey is looking to build upon his three IndyCar races run in 2017. A former British Formula Three champion and six-time Indy Lights winner, Harvey will race for Michael Shank Racing in a joint venture with SPM.

Stefan Wilson: Andretti Autosport [Indy 500]

Stefan Wilson will attempt to qualify for this second Indy 500, and his third IndyCar race. Wilson was signed with Andretti Autosport for last year’s Indy 500, but passed his seat and engine lease over to Fernando Alonso. A former Indy Lights winner, at time of writing Wilson is only scheduled to run the Indy 500.

Victor Genova is the host of the Media People Podcast and a freelance racing writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @VicGenova