In Carpenter-Fisher Hartman Racing’s third race as a merged team has seen success thanks to driver in the Hartman Oil #67 entry, Josef Newgarden, claiming his first IndyCar career victory. The Tennessee native won a thrilling Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and became the fourth different winner in four races this season.

Newgarden started fifth behind the Team Penske cars and Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon but managed to get around the Kiwi, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power on the first lap to start the next lap of the race in second place.

2015 Indy Grand Prix of Alabama start

Newgarden managed a perfect opening lap, vaulting from fifth to second before Lap 2.

In the early goings the Honda powered cars were getting the best of the Chevrolets, who were struggling with grip.

Newgarden pushed Castroneves and was able to jump him on the first set of pit stops right before the race’s first full course yellow on Lap 20.

Exiting the pit lane after his first pit stop, Will Power went almost directly onto the racing line when AJ Foyt’s Takuma Sato was heading into Turn 2 and the pair collided.

The debris after the collision led to a second full course yellow and sent several drivers straight into the pits, splitting the field up into two three-stop strategy groups.

After six of the top ten (including the first four-placed runners) pitted, the race went back to green on Lap 24, with Newgarden leading over Castroneves, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, and Power.

Power’s time near the front was short lived as he was given a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact with ex-F1 racer Sato. This penalty dropped Power to last of the 23-car field.

Newgarden then kept the lead from Castroneves, who kept pushing the youngster to his limits until another caution came on Lap 34 after contact between Schmidt Peterson’s James Jakes and KVSH Racing’s Stefano Coletti.

After the next set of stops took place, Rahal led the field as it went back to green over Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais and Luca Filippi.

The most notable move of the race took place on the lap after the restart. Coming off of the restart, Newgarden found a gap heading onto the front straight and got around Castroneves, making him the de facto leader for when the second cycle of pit stops came through.

Newgarden reclaimed the lead after Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya pitted on Lap 51, but was being chased by Dixon after the New Zealander was stuck behind Castroneves until lap 57. Dixon then set his fastest lap of the race and started to cut into Newgarden’s lead when the CFH team called Newgarden to pit on lap 63.

Dixon then came in the next lap and was unable to overcut Newgarden, but the Chip Ganassi driver’s troubles weren’t over yet.

Rahal, meanwhile, had pitted on lap 70 and started his own charge through the field. The American got by Power on Lap 72, Andretti’s Hunter-Reay on Lap 80, Castroneves on Lap 82, and then got past Dixon with six corners to go in the race.

However, he only had half a lap to close down Newgarden, who took his first career victory in 55 starts with just 2.2 seconds over Rahal. Dixon was third, Power an eventful fourth and Hunter-Reay rounding out the top five.

Newgarden was elated about finally getting his first IndyCar win after getting two second-placed finishes and a near-win at Mid-Ohio in 2014.

“We’ve been there before, things have gone wrong. Today nothing went wrong. We had everything we needed to win. Just a nice, solid day for our group with everyone involved,” Newgarden said.

“I can’t tell you how nervous I was. In racing I am normally not, but it’s been such a long time coming in trying to do this, I can’t believe now this has happened.”

Rahal’s drive to second showed a resurgence in Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, but the strategy was a big help for them as they put on brand new set of red (soft) tyres on the last pit stop.

Third-placed Dixon was not able to keep Rahal behind for long on the last lap as his car’s tyres were finished.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon struggled with fading tyres and slipped to third on the final lap.

“Today, on any tyres, we didn’t maintain [grip]. The car always had the speed for the first 15 laps [to] 20 laps. It was probably one of the fastest cars out there. It was just trying to keep the tyres underneath it. We didn’t do a good job of that,” he shrugged.

“When you have a race like this where you got to maintain tire degradation, it just makes for fantastic racing,” he added.

For Rahal, it was his first podium finish since Race of last year’s Detroit double-header.

“I’m really proud of the Steak ‘n Shake guys,” Rahal said. “They’ve worked extremely hard and today I drove 110 per cent every single lap. Honda did a great job for me today, this team has come a long way and I think we have proven that. Eventually, one of these days we’ll win one of these things. I hope everybody enjoyed the race because we were pushing right until the last second.”

Despite finishing fourteenth, Montoya still leads the championship – by the same margin – with just a three-point advantage over teammate Hélio Castroneves (136-133). Dixon moves to third on 123 points, while race-winner Newgarden jumps to fourth, four points behind the 2013 champion.

Reigning series champion Power – who made an impressive climb to bounce back and finish fourth after his drive-through penalty – rounds out the top five with 119 points.

The next round of the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the series’ second running on the Brickyard’s road course layout on 08-09 May.

2015 IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (90 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Josef Newgarden us CFH Racing 90 1:55:53.063
2. Graham Rahal us Rahal Letterman Lanigan 90 + 2.206
3. Scott Dixon nz Chip Ganassi Racing 90 + 4.837
4. Will Power au Team Penske 90 + 19.490
5. Ryan Hunter-Reay us Andretti Autosport 90 + 22.066
6. Carlos Muñoz co Andretti Autosport 90 + 24.060
7. James Hinchcliffe ca Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 90 + 24.653
8. Sébastien Bourdais fr KVSH Racing 90 + 25.453
9. Simon Pagenaud fr Team Penske 90 + 30.614
10. Marco Andretti us Andretti Autosport 90 + 33.478
11. Luca Filippi it CFH Racing 90 + 34.161
12. Charlie Kimball us Chip Ganassi Racing 90 + 34.679
13. Tony Kanaan br Chip Ganassi Racing 90 + 35.333
14. Juan Pablo Montoya co Team Penske 90 + 36.636
15. Hélio Castroneves br Team Penske 90 + 39.419
16. Gabby Chaves co Bryan Herta Autosport 90 + 45.897
17. Takuma Sato jp A.J. Foyt Racing 90 + 50.844
18. Sage Karam us Chip Ganassi Racing 90 + 55.137
19. Stefano Coletti mc KV Racing Technology 90 + 55.416
20. Rodolfo Gonzalez ve Dale Coyne Racing 90 + 1:07.986
21. Jack Hawksworth uk A.J. Foyt Racong 90 + 1:13.183
22. James Jakes uk Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 89 1 lap behind
23. Franceso Dracone it Dale Coyne Racing 89 1 lap behind

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8