By Paul Kelly / Indycar.com
Detroit — Pato O’Ward took the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points lead with a drive full of championship-caliber mettle, passing Josef Newgarden with three laps remaining to win the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 2 on Sunday at Belle Isle Park.
O’Ward, 22, became the first two-time winner this season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after the first seven races opened with different winners. He also won the XPEL 375 on May 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Mexican driver O’Ward, who started 16th, powered away from two-time series champion Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after the decisive pass in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and drove to victory by 6.7595 seconds. He leads the championship by one point over Alex Palou, who finished third in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda.
O’Ward dedicated his win to teammate Felix Rosenqvist, forced to sit out this race due to a heavy crash in Race 1 Saturday, and longtime McLaren Racing shareholder Mansour Ojjeh, who died June 6.
“I talked to Felix this morning, and the important thing is that he’s OK, but I told him, ‘I’m going to win it for you,’” O’Ward said. “So, this is for him and for Mansour.”
Colton Herta finished fourth in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Graham Rahal placed fifth in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda – identical to his finish Saturday in Race 1.
Detroit Race 1 winner Marcus Ericsson finished ninth in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, slowed by contact with Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet in a duel for position on Lap 15.
O’Ward’s charge to the front was breathtaking from the 16th starting position. He passed six cars and jumped to 10th in the opening five laps while racing on the Firestone alternate “red” tires.
But the charismatic O’Ward saved his best maneuvers for last.
Romain Grosjean stopped on course with a small fire in his left front brake on Lap 59, triggering the last of three full-course cautions in the race. On the restart on Lap 63, O’Ward was fifth behind Newgarden, Herta, Palou and Rahal.
But O’Ward dove under Rahal in Turn 1 for fourth and then devoured Palou and Herta for second place with defiant, but clean, maneuvers.
Then O’Ward set sail for Newgarden while keeping his eye on his mirrors for Herta’s pressure from behind. Herta locked up trying to pass O’Ward for second with three laps to go, effectively ending his chances for victory.
O’Ward then dove under Newgarden in Turn 7 on Lap 68 for the lead, with the two cars touching, and drove away to glory. Newgarden led 67 of the first 70 laps, with O’Ward pacing the final three trips around the 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street circuit.
“He was coming like a freight train,” Newgarden said. “What are you going to do? I just couldn’t do anything. I had so much wheelspin. My rear tires were just shot to death on the last 10 laps. Just trying to be aggressive, and the restarts don’t help you. None of it played into our favor, especially the first caution.”
The race began with NTT P1 Award winner Newgarden as just one of three drivers in the 25-car field to start on Firestone primary “black” tires, joining teammate Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet and James Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Genesys Honda.
That strategy choice forced Newgarden to stretch his first stint on the harder, more durable primary tires as long as possible, while most of the drivers who started on the Firestone alternate “red” tires pitted during the caution created on Lap 1 when Max Chilton’s No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet collided with the back of Hinchcliffe’s car in tight traffic.
Newgarden’s lead built to more than 12 seconds before he pitted on Lap 20 for another set of primary tires. He wanted to run longer to reduce the number of laps on the grippier but less-durable alternate tires late in the race. INDYCAR rules mandate that every driver uses the primary and alternate tires in road and street-course races.
But it was uncertain whether the stalled No. 4 K-Line Insulators/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet of Dalton Kellett could be removed from the track without a full-course caution, and Newgarden didn’t want to lose track position pitting under yellow. So, he pitted even though Kellett’s car later was cleared without a full-course caution.
“None of this played into our favor, especially the first caution,” Newgarden said. “We had to pit because we weren’t sure if they were going to go full-course caution, and if we don’t pit, we get completely hosed. So, we had to put an extra seven, eight 10 laps on the (alternate) tires that we didn’t want to. It would have been a lot easier if we kept it cleaner, and that was our plan. But it just didn’t work our way.”
Newgarden built a lead of nearly 10 seconds over Herta during his second stint, also on Firestone primary tires, before pitting for slightly used Firestone alternate tires on his last stop, on Lap 46.
That lead was reduced to 4.3 seconds after Newgarden’s final pit stop, and Herta sliced that gap to .364 of a second on Lap 52 before Jimmie Johnson slid through Turn 1 in his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on Lap 54, triggering the second full-course caution and packing the field behind Newgarden for a restart.
“It’s hard not to be disappointed,” Newgarden said. “I think we had the car to beat. Cautions at the end, wrong tires at the end. It was a fun strategy. I think we were doing well. It was just the caution that killed us. My rears were shot, and I didn’t really need that. We tried.”
The next race is the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday, June 20 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with live coverage starting at noon (ET) on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. On-track action starts with practice at 5:15 p.m. Friday, June 18, streamed live on Peacock.