Strategy Call Makes Newgarden First Three-Time Barber Winner

Josef Newgarden wins 2018 IndyCar race at Barber
As the leader, Josef Newgarden was the first of the frontrunners to head to the pits for Firestone rain tires, and the decision paid off. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

Twenty-three laps on Sunday became 82 laps and a victory for defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden with the completion of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Monday at Barber Motorsports Park.

After two red flags and a postponement, Monday began with the command to restart engines at 11:01 a.m. CDT. The clock started on Lap 24 with one hour, 15 minutes and 44 seconds remaining in the two-hour race, which became timed due to the inability to reach the 90-lap race distance within two hours.

Newgarden led the field to the green on Lap 27 and only rescinded it during pit stops, both times to Sebastien Bourdais.

Newgarden’s victory wasn’t assured, however. Scott Dixon attempted a one-stop strategy by stretching his first fuel run to 32 laps. Had Dixon been able to execute on the strategy, he likely would have cycled to the front by the end of the race.

Wet conditions prompted Newgarden to be the first in the field to switch to rain tires while competitors Dixon and Bourdais tried to stay out on slicks. If the track had stayed dry enough for the slicks to work, Bourdais, having assumed the lead when Newgarden ducked into the pits, might have taken the checkered flag as the winner after each of his competitors in the lead group pitted for rain tires.

Sebastien Bourdais on Firestone rain tires at Barber
Sebastien Bourdais came within eight minutes of the win but ultimately had to follow Josef Newgarden’s lead and pit for rain tires. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

Bourdais’ run at the front ended when he decided to come in for rain tires on Lap 76, handing the lead back to Newgarden. In all, Bourdais led nine of the race’s 82 laps.

Once back out front, Newgarden cruised to the checkered flag with a 10-second lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay. The finish marks the third win in four years at Barber for Newgarden and his ninth career victory.

Hunter-Reay’s second-place finish is his third podium at Barber and the 39th of his Indy car career. James Hinchcliffe came home in the third position, 15.5 seconds behind Newgarden. The finish marked Hinchcliffe’s best at Barber. His previous best was sixth in 2017.

Robert Wickens two seconds behind Hinchcliffe to give Schmidt Peterson Motorsports two cars in the top four. Bourdais, on wets after his Lap 76 stop, ended the race fifth.

James Hinchcliffe speeds around Barber Motorsports Park
James Hinchcliffe started fifth on Monday but moved up two spots to lead a 3-4 result for himself and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports stablemate Robert Wickens. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

Dixon, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti completed the top 10, giving Honda a remarkable 8-2 advantage over Chevrolet.

Wickens topped the rookie class with his fourth-place finish while the rest of the class finished 12th or worse. Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Jordan King, Rene Binder and Zachary Claman De Melo finished 12th, 13th, 14th, 16th and 19th, respectively.

Notably, Claman De Melo restarted the race two laps down after a two-lap penalty for unapproved work under a red flag. Despite the starting position, he set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 54. He also had a tangle with Spencer Pigot which nearly took out both cars but no action was taken by Race Control.

With his victory, Newgarden returns to the forefront of the championship points battle. With 158 points, the Team Penske youngster holds a 13-point advantage over Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi, who brought his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda home in 11th, marking his first non-podium finish of 2018.

Next up for the series is the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 12. The event will kick off the month of May, which will culminate with the 102 Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

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