FORT WORTH, Texas – Texas is back.
Well, at least for 2023.
When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, Texas Motor Speedway has a long history of intense, side-by-side racing. But for the last several events, that’s been lacking for the most part.
The series has tried to fix what has ailed it, but to really no avail, for a variety of factors. Between adding about 250 pounds of downforce to the cars and getting grip into the higher line, the drivers found a sweet spot that led to some intense racing over the final two stints Sunday at the PPG 375 which ultimately saw Josef Newgarden win for the second year in a row and third time at TMS overall.
“I thought the downforce helped a lot,” Alex Palou, who led 22 laps and finished third, said. “Today you could run on the second lane properly. While last year, only Jimmie (Johnson) could run the second lane, so I think the track improved a lot.”
Through the first three-quarters of the event, there was good racing at the start of stints with lots of drivers trying the second lane, but things settling down as the stint went on. That left Newgarden, who led a race-high 123 laps, and Pato O’Ward, who led 91 circuits as the dominant cars. At one point, they were the only two drivers on the lead lap.
That all changed when polesitter Felix Rosenqvist hit the wall on lap 177. Several cars got back on the lead lap and grabbed fresh tires, and the race was on. It was a intense affair from there on in, and a final shootout was set up when a caution came out with 13 laps to go.
Newgarden, O’Ward and Palou went after it, swapping the lead back and forth and switching between high line and low, going side-by-side around the 1.5-mile oval. The trio swapped the lead six times in the final 11 laps, and a photo finish was waiting until Romain Grosjean hit the wall with the field just over 1.5 laps away from the checkered, and Newgarden took the victory behind the pace car.
“The entire last stint, I was flat [out], which is a big jump from last year,” Newgarden said. “The track seemed better this year. It wasn’t as dark on the PJ1 patches. The track didn’t seem as low grip as it did in the past. Everyone trying the high line running pretty much as soon as we went up there, it had more grip. That led to the type of racing we had today.”
One thing that also contributed to the racing up front was the trust among the drivers involved. All three drivers on the podium complemented the other for hard, but very fair, driving.
“This was my first time racing like that,” Palou said. “I had to investigate a bit how it felt, but it was fun. All drivers were running clean, so it was a good day.”
It also exposed the mentality drivers need to have to race at this level. With tires exposed and the potential for bad things to happen, things can go south in a hurry, but they go after it anyway.
“That’s how it has to be, there is really no other way to do it,” O’Ward said. “You are going way too fast to mess around. We were going wheel to wheel at 226 mph and a little wiggle from somebody can be very bad. It was insane, inside of the car, you see two guys ahead, and you have to push it in there and make that commitment.”
“Yeah you have no other options,” he said, “but you put your right foot down, hold on tight, and close one eye and (hope for the best).”
After a week break, the series heads to the West Coast for the Grand Prix of Long Beach April 16.
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