NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — Josef Newgarden was furious when he was beaten by his teammate for the pole at Iowa Speedway.
He overcame his fury by winning the race.
Newgarden extended the Team Penske dominance at Iowa by winning the first race of a weekend doubleheader Saturday. It was the American’s fourth victory at the shortest track on the IndyCar schedule.
“Unfortunately I get so annoyed these days when I miss it. It’s not that I want to be a sore loser, but I just am so competitive that it is frustrating to me when we don’t execute perfectly,” Newgarden said. “That’s the way my mind works, so I was very motivated to get the race win.”
Newgarden raced to his series-best fourth victory of the season and moved from fourth to second in the tight IndyCar championship fight. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson finished eighth and had his lead in the standings sliced to 15 points over Newgarden.
Newgarden had been 44 points out of the championship lead going into the race on the 0.894-mile oval and can make up even more ground when IndyCar completes its doubleheader Sunday.
“Tomorrow is not a given. I can tell you that we have a good car and we did a good job today,” Newgarden said. “But that does not guarantee tomorrow’s race.”
Team Penske drivers have won six of the last seven races at Iowa, which landed local grocer Hy-Vee as title sponsor of the doubleheader entertainment extravaganza that includes a pair of races and musical performances by Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton.
As Newgarden celebrated his win, he had to speak louder to be heard over the Florida Georgia Line concert that his wife was attending on the frontstretch of the speedway. He also plotted a post-race dinner trip to Wahlburgers to support Sunday’s grand marshal, actor Mark Wahlberg.
Pato O’Ward finished second for Arrow McLaren SP and was followed by pole-sitter Will Power of Penske and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing as Chevrolet took the top four spots. Earlier Saturday, Power won the pole for both races to move him one away from Mario Andretti’s record of 67.
Power said he wasn’t disappointed to fall short of the victory.
“You never look back at a day that finishing third is a bad thing,” Power said. “There’s a few things that I could have done a little bit better and being a bit more aggressive with the tools in the car, but it’s a good points day every time.”
Scott Dixon, who last week tied Andretti for second on the IndyCar win list with 52, finished fifth for Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon was followed by six more Honda drivers, including Ganassi teammate Alex Palou and Romain Grosjean of Andretti Autosport.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson overcame an early spin to weave his way into first the lead, and then a consistent spot inside the top five. He made several bold passes in the high lane, including a nail-biting three-wide pass to pick off two other drivers.
Earl Barban, Johnson’s longtime spotter, radioed that pass “is going to make a highlight reel” and the Ganassi crew asked Johnson if he was enjoying the 250 laps around Iowa in 100-degree temperatures.
“Yeah, this is a blast,” Johnson replied.
His spin was caused when he tried something from his NASCAR days by dropping two tires onto the painted line in a search for more grip.
“If you think of tracks like Atlanta or Richmond in the Cup cars, probably Kevin Harvick was one of the first ones to expose if you drive on the painted line, it will help turn the car and create some grip. I just tried it and it didn’t work,” Johnson said. “I was running lower and lower in (turns) three and four. It was working well. I thought, ‘Let me just put the left sides on the painted lines.’ I was backward instantly. It was just a mistake on my behalf.”
Despite his comeback, Johnson faded to 11th in the closing sequence as only five drivers finished on the lead lap.
“These cars really reward confidence. A Cup car, I think they reward patience and finesse. There’s a different skill set that goes with it,” Johnson said. “You’re going so damn fast in these things, the more downforce it creates, the confidence really rewards you. I hope tomorrow I have an even sharper performance.”
Newgarden, meanwhile, has led 1,358 of 2,250 laps in his last eight visits to Iowa. But even with his fourth win of the year, the championship battle still includes five drivers separated by 59 points with six races remaining.
“I think it’s been very entertaining from a fan standpoint — no one is getting away from anybody,” Newgarden said. “We’re all just together. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I really don’t.”