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Josef Newgarden Suffers Late Heartbreak at Road America

After leading 32 of 55 laps at Road America, Josef Newgarden came to the final restart with two laps to go trying to hold off Alex Palou in Sunday’s (June 20th) REV Group Grand Prix.

But when trying to shift up before turn 1 on lap 54, the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet’s gearbox would not select sixth gear. Palou went around the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion as Newgarden would fall down the order like a stone.

“I tried to shift to sixth and it didn’t take the selection, so I was stuck in fifth,” Newgarden said after the race. “Was trying to get it up to sixth gear and it wouldn’t go, and then I got stuck in fifth in turn one and then finally got it to go down and I just could not get it to upshift after that. So I got down to first [gear] essentially to try to stay out of the mayhem and just couldn’t get the thing to upshift so I’m not sure what happened.”

Newgarden would finish 21st as the last car on the lead lap after starting on pole position with Palou winning the race ahead of Colton Herta and Will Power. To illustrate how crippled Newgarden’s car was, the 2018 Road America winner’s final lap was actually slower than the caution lap he turned just two laps prior (2 minutes, 44.8503 seconds on lap 53 vs 2 minutes, 45.5338 seconds on lap 55).

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The larger disappointment for Newgarden is that this is the second race in a row where the Tennessee native has led late but the lead has slipped from his grasp. At the most recent race in the Detroit doubleheader one week ago, Newgarden was on the red sidewall alternate tires with fading grip and Pato O’Ward got the lead from Newgarden with four laps to go. In either case, Newgarden hasn’t been able to end Team Penske’s winless string in 2021, the team’s last win coming thanks to Newgarden at the 2020 IndyCar season finale on the streets of St. Petersburg.

“It’s obviously disappointing for all of us,” Newgarden said. “I know we had a great car, we had a good car all day. We were doing everything we needed to survive the yellows, surviving the fuel game. I felt like our car was a rocket ship, Team Chevy did a great job for us, we had such amazing fuel mileage and good power so I’m super pleased for all of that, really proud of our team, proud of our partners. Just, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, again.”

The rest of Team Penske had mixed fortunes. Besides Power finishing third, Scott McLaughlin finished 14th and Simon Pagenaud was 18th, the Frenchman’s engineer saying that something went wrong at the start of the race and Pagenaud had no speed throughout the race.

However, Newgarden believes that the team can turn things around heading to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio in two weeks. Newgarden won at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2017 and that win continued a string of five top-two finishes in the final six races that season on his way to winning that years’ championship.

“I think we’ve got fast cars, it’s just not working out for some reason right now so we’re going to claw back, believe me,” Newgarden said. “It’s not what I was planning for coming out of this day, I would’ve liked us to have been a little closer. It’s just a different challenge for when we go to next week so yeah, we’ll get after it.”

Newgarden is currently 88 points behind Palou who took over the series points lead from O’Ward, who finished ninth. O’Ward is 28 points behind Palou.

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