Fort Worth, Texas — Josef Newgarden figured if his team could get him out front, his first IndyCar victory in Texas would follow.
The first three-time winner in the series this year was right, despite Alexander Rossi trying really hard to prove him wrong.
Newgarden held off several late challenges from Rossi, eventually getting some separation over the final few laps to give Team Penske its 14th victory in the past 19 Texas races on Saturday night.
The 13th career win for Newgarden was set up when he stayed on the track longer than the other leaders before the final pit stop with a green flag with about 50 laps remaining on the 1½-mile track.
Newgarden emerged as the surprise leader and held on after a wreck that knocked out defending Texas champion Scott Dixon, who got tangled with 19-year-old Colton Herta with 20 laps to go.
“I’m telling you, if you look at those five or so laps I pumped out,” said Newgarden, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg and again last weekend in the first of two in Detroit.
“I knew it. I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to have a good set of laps here to pump out and just jump everybody.’ That’s what we did. It was really well-executed. It was really well-planned.”
Newgarden, whose previous best finish in seven Texas starts was eighth, also got his first win on a high-speed oval.
But it didn’t come without a serious challenge from Rossi, who pulled even and got slightly past Newgarden several times over the closing laps. But Newgarden kept pulling back in front going into the first turn, eventually cruising to a 0.8164-second win.
“We could get halfway around the outside and then we’d have to bail out,” Rossi said. “Could have maybe took a bit more of risk. Yeah, it was pretty low percentage. I didn’t think a lot of guys were making it happen. Ultimately then it became about trying to beat him for the line.”
Dixon and Herta were battling for second behind Newgarden when the youngster went underneath Dixon to try to pass on the backstretch. Herta’s right front tire touched the rear left of Dixon’s, sending both spinning up the track into the outside wall. Dixon ended up 17th, Herta 18th.
Rossi narrowly avoided that crash, just getting underneath Herta’s sliding car on the bottom of the track to set up his showdown with Newgarden in the closing laps.
Pole-sitter Takuma Sato led the first 60 laps before a disastrous pit stop under a green flag resulted in the Japanese driver going four laps down.
Sato slid through his pit stall and upended crew member Chris Welch as the car ended up in the next stall. Crew members had to pull the car back to their stall before changing tires and refueling. Welch was evaluated and released from the infield care center.
In addition to all the time lost from the long pit stop, Sato was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for hitting Welch. The last driver to win from the pole at Texas was Ryan Briscoe in 2010.
Graham Rahal had a season-best finish of third, and Santino Ferrucci was fourth. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who led the most laps with 90, was fifth. Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud took sixth. Pagenaud was the runner-up to Dixon in Texas last June.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel produced a stunning final lap to clinch pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal.
Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton looked set for a record-extending 86th pole — and a record seventh in Montreal — but Vettel found extra speed in the final sector of qualifying.
After crossing the line, a euphoric Vettel broke out into impromptu singing on his team radio. Moments later Hamilton came over to congratulate him and the German driver was clearly relieved to finally show some of his best ability.
“I’m full of adrenaline,” Vettel said. “The last few weeks have been tough for us. The car felt good. I hope we can carry that into the race.”
It was the 56th pole of Vettel’s career and first since the German GP last July – where he crashed in the rain comfortably leading the race and effectively handed victory and the momentum of the title race to Hamilton.
In warm and sunny conditions, the four-time F1 champion was 0.2 seconds quicker than Hamilton and about 0.7 faster than teammate Charles Leclerc.
It was only Ferrari’s second pole in seven races this season, the other going to Leclerc in Bahrain.
“Congratulations to Seb, he deserves it and hopefully I’ll have a better race from my side tomorrow,” Leclerc said.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was fourth with Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly in fifth and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas in sixth after a poor performance in the last part of qualifying. The Finnish driver spun and was somewhat fortunate to avoid clipping the barriers.
Ferrari is looking for its first victory of the season after six races and Vettel is well placed, having won from pole here last year.
But the pressure is mounting on him to deliver, since he is without a victory in 14 races dating back to the Belgian GP last August.
Mercedes has won all of the six races this year, with four victories for the five-time F1 champion Hamilton and two for Bottas.
Hamilton, who qualified fourth last year and finished the race in fifth, felt Ferrari did have the edge in qualifying.
“I don’t feel disappointment. We gave it everything. They were faster and in the last sector they were killing us,” Hamilton said. “I’m glad I was able to split the Ferraris (on the grid). We’ve got some great fans here, so hopefully we can put on a great show.”
However, it could be a tough race for Mercedes because the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – named after the late father of 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve – has several long straightaways which could advantage Ferrari given its superior straight-line speed.
“We are strong on the long run pace and hopefully tomorrow will be the same and we can have a good run,” said the 21-year-old Leclerc, who joined Ferrari this season and is looking for the first win of his highly promising career.
It proved to be a good day for Vettel, who has faced a lot of criticism this season and in the past two years when he made crucial mistakes and lost both F1 titles to Hamilton.
Earlier Saturday, he was fastest ahead of Leclerc in final practice
Hamilton set the quickest time with about 10 minutes remaining in third practice, but the Mercedes driver was then beaten by Leclerc before Vettel went even quicker.