The decision to spring for new tires during the race’s final caution enabled reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden to dart around Robert Wickens and swipe the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix victory.
Shortly after beginning Lap 225 of 250 with leader Newgarden in his sights, Chip Ganassi Racing newcomer Ed Jones found himself off the ideal racing line and quickly into the wall, bringing out the yellow flag and setting up a sprint to the checkered flag.
Newgarden dived to pit lane for fresh Firestone tires before the return of green-flag racing, heightening the competitive divide between himself and close competitors Wickens, James Hinchcliffe and a remarkably fast Alexander Rossi who all stuck with their used rubber.
When the green flag waved again on Lap 244, the advantage offered by new tires became clear. Wickens initially managed to hold off the surging Newgarden before ultimately falling prey to his speed in a daring pass on the outside as the final handful of laps ticked away.
Newgarden built a gap over Wickens with ease, ultimately capturing the win by a margin of 2.9946 seconds.
En route to winning the 2017 title, Newgarden won IndyCar’s return to Gateway Motorsports Park. By winning this year’s Phoenix visit 226 days later, Newgarden will enter the next oval race, the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, as the winner of the last two oval events.
Newgarden shared the podium with Wickens and Rossi after the duo clashed at the end of last month’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Scott Dixon took fresh Firestone rubber of his own to a fourth-place result ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay.
After initially contending for the podium with his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Wickens, Hinchcliffe fell back to sixth at the finish. Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud comprised the remainder of the top 10, giving Honda a 6-4 advantage in the group.
Misfortune for Dale Coyne Racing hit twice at ISM Raceway, with light contact with the wall ending Pietro Fittipaldi’s IndyCar debut early and a slide into his front-left tire changer leading to a penalty for pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais.
Beyond Fittipaldi and Jones, Will Power also hit the wall and retired from the race after initially proving to be Team Penske’s fastest driver. Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing also had his IndyCar debut end early when he hit the wall.
The series will return to action next weekend at Long Beach for the year’s second contest on a temporary street circuit.