Newgarden and Team Penske dominate IndyCar season opener amid criticism of series leadership

Pole sitter Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden #2 of United States leads into turn 2 during the IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg auto race, Sunday March 10, 2024, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Pole sitter Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden #2 of United States leads into turn 2 during the IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg auto race, Sunday March 10, 2024, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Team Penske silenced recent criticism aimed at series leadership by dominating the IndyCar season-opening race with a Josef Newgarden win from the pole Sunday on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg.

Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing broke up the Penske rout with a second-place finish, but Penske drivers Scott McLaughlin and Will Power finished third and fourth. The Penske trio finished ahead of every Andretti Global driver two days after team owner Michael Andretti called on Roger Penske to sell the IndyCar Series if he’s not willing to increase his investments in promotion and marketing.

“I think for Roger, the Team Penske and the Penske Entertainment is very separate, and for him, he’s got to put those hats on and see the good of the sport,” McLaughlin said. “It’s part of owning the series, you think, you’re going to get called left, right and center from people upset with your adjustments or what you want from the series.

“You’re never going to have it all fine and dandy.”

Colton Herta in fifth was the highest-finishing driver for Andretti, which had a bust of a day with new driver Marcus Ericsson. The former Indianapolis 500 winner lost power midway through the race and finished 25th in the 27-car field. Ericsson was the defending race winner at St. Pete, which celebrated its 20th running of the popular street course event.

Reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou finished sixth for Chip Ganassi Racing and Felix Rosenqvist was seventh in his debut race with Meyer Shank Racing.

Alexander Rossi of McLaren was eighth, while Scott Dixon of Ganassi and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing rounded out the top 10. Santino Ferrucci was an impressive 11th for A.J. Foyt Racing, which created an alliance with Penske.

The win for Penske is his third season-opening win this year alone. His IMSA sports car team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and his other sports car team won the WEC opener in Qatar last week.

“As a team, we’re stoked. We just put a lot of hard work into the season,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a good team. It’s a great business relationship. We’re just going to keep winning.”

Penske hugged Newgarden in victory lane and the NBC cameras caught their conversation: “I was thinking of you at the end of that race, keep it together, like you told me.”

Newgarden then expanded on the conversation.

“Roger was telling me, if you have a big lead, you better hold onto it and not throw it in the wall,” Newgarden said. “It’s great to have these little intimate moments with RP. He wants us to be out there crushing it and winning.”

He said that during the last 10 laps of the race all he could think about was the look he’d see on Penske’s face if he threw the win away.

The victory continued Chevrolet’s impressive start to 2024; headed into the Cup Series race in Phoenix later Sunday, Chevy had won the first three Cup races of the season, all three Truck Series races and two of four Xfinity Series races.

Chevrolet went 1-2-3-4 in the IndyCar opener and had seven cars in the top 11. Chevy drivers have raved all weekend about offseason engagement with their engine supplier and upgrades the bowtie brand delivered to the teams.

“We all met in London, it was like 25 of us at a massive table, and we just hammered down on everything we wanted to see improved. Everything that we thought we did well and just having an honest and open conversation about what’s going on,” O’Ward said of McLaren’s meeting with Chevrolet. “A lot of massive gains have been gained. I was super, super happy to see how receptive they were and how they were going to get to work and they brought us a very strong package.”

Newgarden, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, led 92 of the 100 laps as he had the field covered. It was Newgarden’s 30th career victory and third at St. Pete.

“I had a lot of fun today, a lot of fun,” Newgarden said. “Early on in the race I said, ‘I’m going. We’re not going to wait around to win this race.’”

UP NEXT: IndyCar races at the Thermal Club in California in an all-star style exhibition race with a $1 million payout. The series tested at the members-only club in 2023 to gauge its readiness to host a race.

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