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Newgarden Earns First IMS Win, Closes Title Gap

Josef Newgarden celebrates after winning the first race of the Harvest GP doubleheader at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. (IndyCar Photo)
Josef Newgarden celebrates after winning the first race of the Harvest GP doubleheader at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden finally earned his first trip to victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday and, in doing so, may have taken a major step toward the NTT IndyCar Series championship.

Newgarden won Friday’s opening race of the Harvest GP presented by GMR doubleheader, trimming 32 points off Scott Dixon’s championship lead. He entered Friday’s race 72 points behind and now trails Dixon by 40 points with two races, including Saturday’s second race of the doubleheader, remaining.

Dixon started 12th and finished ninth.

“I don’t think I can think about the race; I’m so excited to be up here on this platform,” Newgarden said of the new victory lane platform at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I wish I was up here with The Captain (Roger Penske). He’s done such an amazing job with this facility, and to see people back here socially distanced in the stands at least getting to watch a race, I’m sure he’s really happy today, and I’m happy to be up here representing him and Team Penske, everyone at IndyCar, IMS. Thank you to everyone that came out.

“We had a rocket ship. I knew we did yesterday in qualifying. I was so surprised by how quick the car was. It was a great fight today. It was strategy, it was close combat, it was everything you wanted in an IndyCar race, and I had the quickest car. Team Chevy did an amazing job. Having Hitachi has been good luck for us this year. I’m pumped to be up here. I’ve always wanted to get up here. I want to get up here during the (Indy) 500, but this is cool.”

Newgarden had the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet in the lead for 34 laps after starting second.He defeated Alexander Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda by 14.2940 seconds.

Rossi’s second-place finish was his best of an otherwise disappointing season. He was left frustrated Friday after he was penalized for a track limits violation midway through the event.

“I did two wheels over the white line. I didn’t go over our talked-about reference point and still got a penalty,” Rossi said. “Two times at Indianapolis, weird penalties, I don’t know what to say. The car was great. Hats off to the NAPA Auto Parts/AutoNation Honda boys. We’ve never been good here (on the IMS road course), so to get on the podium is fantastic.”

Rinus VeeKay started on the pole and finished third. The rookie from The Netherlands led 15 laps and made a late charge to pass Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta to earn his first podium in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“It was tough out there. Starting on pole, first time for me. I was just struggling on the blacks (primary tires). Got in traffic because of that. Bummer, but the last run on the reds (alternate tires) was really good. Happy I could get some spots back,” VeeKay said.

Herta, of Andretti Autosport, finished fourth after leading 29 laps. Rosenqvist, driver of the No. 10 for Chip Ganassi Racing, rounded out the top-five.

It was Newgarden’s third win of the year and the 17th win of his Indy car career. This is the 217th Indy car victory for cars owned by Roger Penske. It is the sixth win for Team Penske on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with the team previously earning five wins in the GMR Grand Prix.

Friday’s race was also the first time since Penske purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway 11 months ago that fans were allowed to watch a race at the fabled facility.

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