MADISON, Ill. – Josef Newgarden got a reprieve.
After a weather delay of more than two hours, Newgarden reclaimed the lead from Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin and survived a dramatic closing charge by rookie David Malukas to win Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
Following the resumption, Newgarden claimed the top spot from McLaughlin after a restart on Lap 224 of 260 and maintained a margin roughly a half-second over his teammate. On fresher tires, Malukas passed McLaughlin for the runner-up spot on the final lap and trailed Newgarden to the finish line by .4708 seconds.
The victory was the third straight and fourth overall at World Wide Technology Raceway for the acknowledged king of the IndyCar short ovals. Newgarden won for the 25th time in the series and reduced teammate and pole winner Will Power’s championship lead to three points with two races left—at Portland and Laguna Seca.
“We put ourselves in position, it was time to close (before the delay for rain and lightning), and there was just a barrier that got in front of us again,” said Newgarden, who won for the fifth time this season. “But fortunately, we were able to get back out. I was so happy we could finish this race.
“Scott McLaughlin—he wanted to win, too, and I love that about him. We have a great relationship. Obviously, he wanted to win, but he drove me super fair there at the end. I knew Scott was going to be good at the end there, and he had a great restart.
“I just tried to work the high lane. The high lane worked for me earlier, and I tried to do it again at the finish there, and we just had enough to get by him.”
Neither McLaughlin nor Newgarden would have been in position to battle for the victory had it not been for an earlier strategic call. Both drivers came to pit road for fresh tires on Lap 148, under caution for Jack Harvey’s shunt in Turn 4.
As it turned out, the tires made all the difference.
Power, the race leader at the time, remained on the track, as did then-second-place Pato O’Ward. McLaughlin and Newgarden restarted sixth and seventh, respectively, on Lap 158. It took seven laps for Newgarden to fly past O’Ward for the lead, with McLaughlin following into second place 12 laps later.
Over the course of the next 30 laps, McLaughlin cut what had been a seven-second advantage for Newgarden to less than two seconds, before the drivers swapped the lead during an exchange of pit stops. Running second behind Newgarden, McLaughlin brought his car to pit road for new tires and fuel on Lap 207. Newgarden followed a lap later but was held up behind Christian Lundgaard entering pit road. That was the “barrier” Newgarden reference in his earlier comment.
Newgarden lost a full second to his teammate on his entrance to pit road and returned to the racing surface behind McLaughlin, who held the top spot until the thunderstorm stopped the race after caution was called on Lap 214.
On the final 36-lap run, Malukas charged past both O’Ward and McLaughlin to secure the best finish on his career. He used the outside lane to dispose of McLaughlin on the final lap.
“We ended up getting around O’Ward, and then we passed a lapped car, they said, ‘You see them in front,’” Malukas said. “A I could see two Penskes, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re Penskes. They were tough. They were tough to even get some ‘suck’ to get close to them.
“Yeah, with two laps to go, that’s the one lap I decided to do the outside lane, and it worked so well. So if I had tried it sooner, maybe we could have done something for Newgarden, but overall, that’s a win for me and a win for the (Dale Coyne) team. They deserve that so much.”
O’Ward came home fourth behind McLaughlin. Takuma Sato was fifth and Power sixth. Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon came home seventh and eighth. Dixon is third in the standings, 14 points behind Power, and Ericsson is fourth, 17 points back.