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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Josef Newgarden Wins Saturday Night Shootout in Texas

It was high drama on the high banks Saturday night (June 8) as the NTT IndyCar Series made its annual visit to Texas Motor Speedway for the DXC Technology 600.

In typical Texas style, Josef Newgarden held on in a Saturday night shootout to take home his third win of the year.

Fending off Alexander Rossi in a late-race sprint to the checkers, Newgarden extended his points-lead to 25 points over Rossi, cementing his status as the favorite to take home the 2019 crown.

However, Newgarden didn’t always look like a contender to win under the lights in the Lone Star State.

Takuma Sato, starting on the pole for the second time this year, looked to be the car to beat, stretching out an early lead while Rossi, Newgarden, Spencer Pigot and Colton Herta scrapped further back in the field.

But disaster struck early for the race leader, as Sato badly overshot his pit box during his first stop, violently striking his left-front tire changer and the inside pit wall in the process. The incident left the pole-sitter two laps down. Going from bad to worse, he was also given a stop-and-go penalty for hitting a crew member, putting him another pair of laps off the lead lap. Although he appeared to be the early favorite, the incident effectively ended his day.

Sato’s costly mistake handed the lead over to Ryan Hunter-Reay. He couldn’t quite get comfortably ahead of Scott Dixon, who spent most of the race at or near the front of the field. The Kiwi, winner of the second leg of the Detroit doubleheader, stalked the 2012 series champ for 50 laps before Hunter-Reay made his second stop of the evening.

While Dixon and Hunter-Reay settled in at the front, Herta, Rossi and James Hinchcliffe fought for position further back in the field. Jostling for the final spot on the podium, the rookie made a pair of bold moves on the two veterans, making his No. 88 Honda stick on the outside of Turn One on two consecutive laps to move up to third.

Shortly after, the first yellow of the day flew for Zach Veach, who slapped the Turn Two wall with his right rear tire, sending him spinning down the backstretch. The sophomore Andretti Autosport driver made a remarkable save, avoiding further contact with the SAFER Barrier, but the damage was already done. The contact sent Veach behind the wall for the rest of the night.

The short caution period bunched up the field, giving several of the 11 cars still on the lead lap — including Newgarden, Sebastian Bourdais and Marcus Ericsson — a chance to go off-strategy. Despite the advantage of new tires, the trio failed to make any big jumps up the order.

At the head of the pack, Hunter-Reay fended off several strong runs from Dixon, holding onto the lead while trying to save fuel. While the short yellow flag period helped his cause, the No. 28 team still needed to save while most of the field was able to comfortably commit to a three-stop strategy, putting the 2014 Indy 500 winner behind the eight ball. With 85 laps left in the race, Dixon was finally able to get around the Andretti Autosport driver, sending Hunter-Reay back several spots in the order.

On lap 175, Rossi blew by Dixon to take the lead for the first time all night, spurring a series of lead changes between the pair. While the two swapped positions, Hinchcliffe was able to close the gap, drawing right up to the gearbox of Rossi’s No. 27 machine.

But the entire complexion of the race changed during the last series of pit stops. Newgarden, by nature of race strategist Tim Cindric’s call to take tires during the race’s first yellow, took the lead with under 50 laps remaining. Rattling off a series of quick laps before his stop, the championship leader undercut Rossi, Dixon and Hinchcliffe to hold on to the race lead.

For a moment, it looked like the 2017 champion would walk away with the win, but Hinchcliffe spun on the backstretch, making hard contact with the inside wall, bringing out the second yellow of the day.

On the restart, Newgarden successfully held off Dixon to maintain the lead, but a few laps later, Herta attempted to stuff his Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda underneath the defending champ heading into Turn Three. There just wasn’t enough room for both cars, sending the pair into a spin and into the wall. Both drivers, while disappointed, were uninjured.

Getting the green flag with less than 15 laps to go, a high stakes battle began between Newgarden and Rossi. For the last 10 laps, Newgarden held the low line, forcing Rossi to try to go around the outside. Without the grip to make it stick, Newgarden held this year’s Indianapolis 500 runner-up at bay, eventually securing his series leading third win of the year.

Behind Rossi, Graham Rahal put together a quietly solid performance, giving him his first podium of the year. Santino Ferrucci — who took over the lead in the Rookie-of-the-Year standings with Saturday’s result – finished fourth for Dale Coyne Racing, followed closely by Hunter-Reay.

Indianapolis 500 champ Simon Pagenaud closed out a quiet evening with a sixth-place finish, and Ericsson crossed the line just behind the Frenchman. Bourdais was the last car on the lead lap, finishing eighth, while Will Power and Marco Andretti –recovering from his 21st starting position – rounded out the top 10.

Conor Daly, in his first race filling in for Max Chilton, brought home the No. 59 Carlin Racing machine in 11th place, making a solid case to be the driver to fill the seat during the three remaining oval races on the schedule.

Oval-specialist Ed Carpenter, meanwhile, quickly dropped from his 13th starting position back to 20th in the early stages of the race. Fighting oversteer during the first stint, the lone owner-driver struggled to stay in front of Sato, eventually going a lap down. Carpenter would eventually recover for a 13th place finish, but was never a factor in the race.

Full DXC Technology 600 Results

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