Reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden took his first win of 2018, defeating Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’s Robert Wickens after a late full-course yellow caused a seven-lap showdown at Phoenix.
Wickens led the majority of the first race of the season at St Petersburg on his series debut before a late clash with Alexander Rossi, and once again he starred in Phoenix.
This was Wickens first-ever oval race, and his SPM team expertly pulled off an undercut on the Penske duo of leading racer Will Power and Newgarden midway through.
But Penske responded in the final stint, with Newgarden pitting early in the last planned pitstop window to take a fuel gamble.
That meant Newgarden kept inside the top five and he then got a lucky break when the impressive Ed Jones crashed out of second place after he went off-line and into the outside wall.
That opened the door to strategic variance, with the top three of SPM duo Wickens and James Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport’s Rossi staying out on old tyres.
Newgarden used the full-course yellow to take on new tyres and the advantage told in the final seven laps, despite several expert blocks from Wickens.
The Penske driver then managed to make a swift pass on Wickens into Turn 1 around the outside to take a comfortable win.
Wickens held on to finish second, with Rossi taking a surprise third after a disastrous start to his day.
The former Manor Formula 1 driver went a lap down after he made an error entering his pitbox on the first stint that earned him a drivethrough penalty.
He was then the fastest car on track for swathes of the race, making over 20 passes for position during the race to get back into the lead battle.
Despite his older tyres, Rossi held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon for fourth. Dixon had started 18th but made progress in the early stops to make up ground.
While Rossi narrowly stayed ahead, SPM’s Hinchcliffe struggled on the aged tyres and fell back on the restart to sixth ahead of Ed Carpenter.
Tony Kanaan finished eighth for AJ Foyt ahead of Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud.
Pagenaud had started on the front row of the grid alongside polesitter Sebastien Bourdais but a mix-up in the pits when the Penske driver asked for a wing adjustment cost him time, which was then compounded by a slow getaway.
Bourdais also lost his chance of victory in the pitlane.
Before the race even began, polesitter Bourdais stalled in the pitlane – narrowly making the grid after a late restart of the car.
Working without telemetry, Bourdais made an excellent start to lead through the first stint. But when he ended it, the DCR driver collided with his front right tyre jackman and earned a drivethrough penalty that put him a lap down.
He cycled into the lead late in the race off-sequence, but a yellow flag did not materialise meaning he had to put under green and fall back to a finishing position of 13th.
DCR debutant Pietro Fittipaldi crashed out after running high and colliding with the outside wall, and reigning Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser also retired in his first IndyCar race after contact with the wall.
|1||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||Dallara/Chevrolet||250||1h44m00.3552s|
|2||Robert Wickens||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||Dallara/Honda||250||2.9946s|
|3||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||Dallara/Honda||250||3.4890s|
|4||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara/Honda||250||3.8175s|
|5||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||Dallara/Honda||250||4.0122s|
|6||James Hinchcliffe||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||Dallara/Honda||250||9.4497s|
|7||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara/Chevrolet||250||9.4731s|
|8||Tony Kanaan||AJ Foyt Enterprises||Dallara/Chevrolet||250||9.8650s|
|9||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||Dallara/Honda||250||10.1747s|
|10||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||Dallara/Chevrolet||250||10.3247s|
|11||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||Dallara/Honda||250||10.9443s|
|12||Marco Andretti||Andretti Herta||Dallara/Honda||249||1 Lap|
|13||Sebastien Bourdais||Dale Coyne Racing||Dallara/Honda||249||1 Lap|
|14||Spencer Pigot||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara/Chevrolet||249||1 Lap|
|15||Gabby Chaves||Harding Racing||Dallara/Chevrolet||249||1 Lap|
|16||Zach Veach||Andretti Autosport||Dallara/Honda||249||1 Lap|
|17||Charlie Kimball||Carlin||Dallara/Chevrolet||248||2 Laps|
|18||Max Chilton||Carlin||Dallara/Chevrolet||247||3 Laps|
|19||Matheus Leist||AJ Foyt Enterprises||Dallara/Chevrolet||241||9 Laps|
|20||Ed Jones||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara/Honda||228||Contact|
|21||Kyle Kaiser||Juncos Racing||Dallara/Chevrolet||174||Contact|
|22||Will Power||Team Penske||Dallara/Chevrolet||153||Contact|
|23||Pietro Fittipaldi||Dale Coyne Racing||Dallara/Honda||40||Contact|