Josef Newgarden turned the best start of his career at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park into his first NTT IndyCar Series win in Detroit during a rain-affected first race of the doubleheader event.
Had the temporary street circuit stayed dry before the start of Race 1, Newgarden would have joined pole sitter Alexander Rossi on the front row. Instead, INDYCAR ordered a single-file start on the soaked racetrack following a one-hour, 13-minute rain delay.
And had INDYCAR not reduced the contest from its original duration of 70 laps to 75 minutes, Newgarden would’ve had more time to put Rossi behind him following their start from the front. Instead, this year’s Race 1 lasted 24 fewer minutes than the first contest of the 2018 doubleheader.
Featuring only four more seconds of green-flag running than full-course caution time, Race 1 and its 75-minute, 30-second duration included just one pass for the lead: Newgarden’s easy overtake on the pole sitter when Rossi made his first — and only — pit stop on Lap 19.
Tim Cindric’s decision to bring Newgarden to pit lane two laps earlier secured the victory for Team Penske and hometown manufacturer Chevrolet.
On the lap immediately following Newgarden’s stop for four black-sidewalled primary Firestone tires and Speedway fuel, Ed Jones buried the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet in the Turn 7 tire barrier, prompting the second full-course caution period.
Rossi passed the closed pit lane until his aforementioned stop, at which point Newgarden coasted by behind the Corvette pace car.
Twice more, Newgarden led Rossi and the remainder of the field to the green flag on restarts. Rossi strategically used his push-to-pass allotment but, hampered by the lack of secondary dry lines, never found a way by Newgarden in his NAPA Auto Parts-branded, Honda-powered Indy car.
After 29 green-flag laps and 14 under yellow, Newgarden sped under the checkered flag 0.5719 seconds ahead of Rossi, finalizing his second victory of 2019 and first since winning on the St. Petersburg street circuit in March.
Rossi’s runner-up result pairs with his second-place finish at the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 six days ago as his only other second place in 2019. Including his best Belle Isle result yet on Saturday, the Andretti Autosport pilot has landed on the podium for the fifth time in the last seven races.
Takuma Sato also matched his Indianapolis 500 result in the first race since IndyCar left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he was beaten to the start/finish line by only Newgarden and Rossi. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Japanese driver captured his third podium finish in the last five rounds, dating back to his Barber Motorsports Park victory.
In his first Belle Isle race, Felix Rosenqvist came home fourth, matching his previous best finishing in his debut at St. Pete. Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the top five.
New Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud was sixth ahead of Graham Rahal, Zach Veach, James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot, with Veach recovering from a spin at Turn 8 during the pace laps.
Newgarden pulled out to a 25-point lead over Pagenaud in the points heading into qualifying for Race 2 and the second race itself Sunday. Rossi is 33 back from Newgarden while Sato and Scott Dixon have 65- and 92-point deficits after Dixon’s crash at Turn 6.
Matheus Leist started 20th, spun on Lap 2, visited pit lane for a new front wing, served a drive-through penalty for repairs in a closed pit and crashed again on Lap 30 of 43 but is still scored ahead of Dixon, who was last.
Will Power took the green flag from 12th but finished 18th after a failed pit stop led to his right-front wheel coming off at pit exit; penalties for equipment leaving his pit box and an unsafe release; and an additional visit to pit lane for a new nose cone and the missing fourth wheel.
The grid will be set for Race 2 beginning at 10:45 a.m. EDT Sunday before Race 2 goes green at 3:50 p.m. — 50 minutes after NBC’s telecast kicks off from the island in the Detroit River.