Josef Newgarden pulls off overcut for Long Beach victory

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AsĀ Josef Newgarden left the media center, Saturday, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times stopped him at the stairs to ask him a bizarre question.

“‘Hey, Josef,'” he said, “‘Josef’ — *points to him in post-race press conference* it’s this dude — he goes, ‘Josef, one question: At what point does Colton Herta check out tomorrow? Like when is that?'”

Newgarden went to bed, that night, pondering that question. He decided that Herta wouldn’t run away with the victory.

“There’s no way,” he said. “He’s just not going to do it after I heard this from this person.”

And he didn’t, after over-cutting Herta — and turning out a faster stop — to cycle ahead. His crew turned an 8.1 second stop on Lap 31, while Herta’s clocked a 9.39 second stop on Lap 29.

Josef Newgarden pulls off overcut for Long Beach victory

The first stop

LONG BEACH, Calif. – APRIL 10: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #2 Hitachi Chevrolet, leads Colton Herta, driver of the #26 Gainbridge Honda, down East Shoreline Drive during the NTT IndyCar Series Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 10, 2022, in Long Beach, California. Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Meanwhile, Alex Palou’s sent him out in 7.5 seconds on Lap 28. Thus, he cycled ahead of both Newgarden and Herta.

“That was what we were aiming for,” Palou said. “That was the strategy. I knew we had a good stop. We had a really fast out lap, so I knew we were going to be in a really good position.”

Josef Newgarden pulls off overcut for Long Beach victory

The second stop

On the next cycle of stops, Palou pitted first, again, on Lap 55. Newgarden pulled another overcut on Lap 58.

The remainder of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach turned into a fight between Newgarden, Palou and Romain Grosjean. On the final restart with five laps to go, Newgarden had four seconds of Push-2-Pass left, Grosjean in second had none and Palou had 11.

“Through the race, at the beginning, I didn’t want to get stuck behind some drivers that were on a different strategy,” Grosjean said. “I was behind Scott Dixon for a while and I knew he was on a three stopper. So I used some there before the pit and after the pit trying to make some good way ahead.

“I think that was it. I had 30 seconds with 42 left, I used 15 on the straight with Alex, but he had a really good break to Turn 1. That was late.”

Palou lost track of his with 100 seconds left. When he looked down at it, as Newgarden exited pit road, it was 11.

“I was like, ‘oh, God. So he got me,'” he said. “I thought I could have got him back into Turn 4. It’s not a place where you can overtake, but I had to go for it because otherwise I knew that he would get the tires into temperature. So I tried. I saw it was really close, and I didn’t make it.”

With passing on-track already a Herculean task, Palou and Grosjean had nothing for Newgarden, who all but coasted to his 22nd career victory. His first on the streets of Long Beach.

LONG BEACH, Calif. – APRIL 10: Josef Newgarden (C), driver of the #2 Hitachi Chevrolet, Romain Grosjean (L), driver of the #28 DHL Honda, and Alex Palou (R), driver of the #10 NTT Data Honda, pose for pictures in victory lane with their podium trophies, after the NTT IndyCar Series Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 10, 2022, in Long Beach, California. Photo: Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment

“Incredibly special,” he said. “This place is a hard nut to crack. It’s a lot of pressure like the Indy 500. Everyone looks at this place as the crown jewel of our sport, and it would be honor to win here and you feel it within the team. The team was so pumped up to be able to win around this place. It does mean more than some other tracks.

“So I think that’s what adds to the difficulty, but I was glad it didn’t go yellow with three laps to go. It was a half lap. It seemed pretty much over at that point, bearing me not making an outrageous mistake with a couple corners left.

“At least it wasn’t some token victory where the yellow was out really early. But we had to work for it today. As soon as I got comfortable I felt like a yellow came out and we had to pretty much go from zero again, and in some situations fighting against I would say us as a deficit with tires.

“It was not easy today by any means.”

Josef Newgarden pulls off overcut for Long Beach victory

Nuts and bolts

The race lasted one hour, 46 minutes and 48 seconds, at an average speed of 93.977 mph. There were five lead changes among five different drivers and four cautions for 14 laps.

Newgarden leaves with a five-point lead overĀ Scott McLaughlin in the points standings.

TOP IMAGE: Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment