ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Team Penske’s hot start to the motorsports season continued Sunday with a Josef Newgarden victory in the IndyCar season opener — the fourth win for a Penske car in seven days spanning three series.
Newgarden crossed the finish line on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg at almost the exact same time Ryan Blaney, another Penske driver, led the field to green in the NASCAR race outside Phoenix. Team Penske won consecutive NASCAR races with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to lock both into the playoffs, two Supercars races in Australia in the new Ford Mustang and now one of the showcase events on the IndyCar schedule.
The organization is off to such a strong start that Penske acknowledged his three-driver IndyCar lineup arrived at the opening race feeling pressure to match their counterparts.
Will Power and Newgarden delivered in qualifying by sweeping the front row, then Newgarden used tire strategy to put his Chevrolet out front.
“So proud of our group, we have the best of the best working for Team Penske,” Newgarden said. “There’s a lot of pressure at Team Penske, everybody is rising up, and we joined the group today.”
It was the 204th victory in IndyCar for a Penske driver.
“To come out here and have a pole with Will, sweep the front row and win the race with Josef is a great way to start our season on the IndyCar side with Chevrolet,” Penske said. “Next week, we will be at Sebring and try to get our Acura Team Penske program in victory lane in the historic 12 hours race.
“But we need to keep looking out the windshield. The competition in all these series is strong and they will keep improving. So we need to keep pushing. There is a long season ahead of us.”
The sports car program, which started last year, had a third-place podium finish in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January.
Scott Dixon finished second in a Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing but was stymied by lapped traffic in his bid to catch Newgarden.
“You know the lapped traffic is trying to stay on the lead lap,” Dixon said. “I thought we had a run on Josef, but once we caught the traffic it wasn’t enough.”
Power finished third.
Felix Rosenqvist was the breakout star of the race by finishing fourth in his IndyCar debut. The Ganassi rookie from Sweden led 31 laps and used a strong pass on Power on a restart to move to the front. He was taken out of contention for the victory during pit stops and just missed a podium finish in his debut.
“We are starting off the season better off than anyone could have expected,” said Rosenqvist, winner of three Indy Lights races in 2016.
The race finished with Penske and Ganassi, the two top teams in IndyCar, on top of the standings and the final scoring tower. Alexander Rossi was fifth for Andretti Autosport, James Hinchcliffe finished sixth for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Simon Pagenaud, the third driver in the Penske lineup, was seventh.
Colton Herta finished eighth as the 18-year-old debuted for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
The race was slowed by only two cautions, the fewest in the 16-year history of the race.
Sebastien Bourdais’ shot at a third consecutive victory ended 11 laps into the race with a mechanical problem.
Bourdais has called St. Pete home since he returned from Europe when his Formula One career ended after the 2009 season and has grown into the unofficial ambassador for the city and the showcase IndyCar event.
His back-to-back victories the last two seasons were a point of pride for both Bourdais and the city of St. Pete.
IndyCar will make its debut at Circuit of the Americas in Austin on March 24th.