Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden has a great view for his 200th NTT INDYCAR SERIES start this weekend. The two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion rolls off the starting grid third Sunday in his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Newgarden becomes the 28th driver to reach 200 career starts. The only active drivers ahead of him on the list are Helio Castroneves (391 starts), Scott Dixon (386 starts), Ryan Hunter-Reay (293 starts), Will Power (286 starts), Graham Rahal (276 starts), Marco Andretti (251 starts), Takuma Sato (214 starts) and Ed Carpenter (201 starts). Only Dixon, Power and Rahal are full-time participants in 2024 with Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Sato and Carpenter racing only in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

“I can't,” Newgarden said when asked if he can believe he’s making his 200th start. “I'm in the middle ground. I'm not the old guy. I'm definitely not the new guy. How long was I on the up-and-coming list? I think it seven or eight years they kept me on that. Now I’m in the middle.”

Newgarden admitted that 200 starts, 117 of them with Team Penske, at 33 years old makes him kind of depressed. He looks at it in a sense of, “What did I accomplish?”

He has accomplished a lot.

Newgarden’s 2023 Indianapolis 500 win is one of his 30 career victories, ranking one shy of tying Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti and Castroneves for 10th all-time. But he still thinks those stats could be better as he’s in the 13th season of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.

“It's OK; it's not great,” Newgarden said. “I think it's just good. There's a long way to go. I feel like I'm running out of time. I need to speed up is what I need to do right now.”

Newgarden trails Power (38 wins with Team Penske), Castroneves (30 wins with Team Penske) and Rick Mears (29 wins with Team Penske) as the all-time victory leader in INDYCAR SERIES competition for the prestigious organization.

Twenty-seven of his 30 career victories have come with Team Penske, including a romp in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding last month. Newgarden led 92 of 100 laps from the pole in a rout, beating second-place finisher Pato O’Ward by 7.9121 seconds.

Newgarden could reach his 31st victory Sunday. He won here in 2022, one of four podium finishes in his last six starts on the 1.968-mile street circuit.

O’Ward Happy for Rosenqvist

Will Power told Felix Rosenqvist that he’s not “best man” material but could be the “good man” in the Swedish driver’s wedding later this year. Rosenqvist doesn’t need either. He already asked former Arrow McLaren teammate Pato O’Ward to be his best man.

The two became best friends over the three seasons they spent as teammates with Arrow McLaren from 2021-23. Even though Rosenqvist moved this season to Meyer Shank Racing, the two remain close.

“Super happy for him,” O’Ward said on Rosenqvist’s strong start to the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

Rosenqvist qualified second and finished seventh in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. He qualified on the pole and finished second at the non-points The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge. On Saturday, Rosenqvist topped the 27-car field to earn NTT P1 Pole Award honors for the prestigious Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“He’s relaxed,” O’Ward said of his friend. “It just feels like he doesn't have 1,000 pounds over his shoulders. It makes a big difference whenever you're trying to perform or you're trying to extract that little bit.

“Even before the year started, I could tell the switch was good for him. I think it's one of the best decisions he could have done, to be honest. That’s his baby over there. He can make that and grow with it. Kind of like what I've done with Arrow McLaren. You're not just kind of jumping into a bigger team. I think this is really good.”

Ericsson Eyeing Long Beach Victory

Three of Marcus Ericsson’s four NTT INDYCAR SERIES victories have come on street circuits. The other victory was the 2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Ericsson still has yet to conquer is the 11-turn, 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit.

In his first season with Andretti Global, is this the moment the former Chip Ganassi Racing driver can circle another street course as a winning spot, joining Belle Isle (2021), Nashville (2021) and St. Petersburg (2023)?

“I felt like I was really close last year,” he said. “The last two years I've been really good here. It's a good track for me. I really like it.”

Ericsson was surrounded last year by Andretti Global drivers in his last season with CGR. The team took first, second and fourth, with Kyle Kirkwood holding off Romain Grosjean for its fourth win in the last five Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach events. Ericsson beat Andretti Global driver Colton Herta for the third and final spot on the podium.

This season, Ericsson is driving the No. 28 Delaware Life Honda that Grosjean drove to second-place finishes in 2022 and 2023 at Long Beach. Grosjean returns this weekend in a full-time role in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.

Ericsson starts fifth Sunday.

McLaughlin Becoming A Dad

Scott McLaughlin announced Thursday that he and his wife, Karly, will become first-time parents this fall. The Team Penske driver said he found out before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.

“I've never felt so much euphoria when I first heard the little girl's heartbeat,” McLaughlin said. “It was amazing. I started crying, and honestly, I've won races and been on podiums and done some really cool stuff in my life, but hearing that, it's just the best feeling in the world. I'm excited.”

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace also recently shared that he and his wife are expecting. McLaughlin said the two drivers are friends and talked about how close their due dates are. They made a video about it that he hopes to share soon.

Grosjean Heads toward Strong Stretch

Juncos Hollinger Racing newcomer Grosjean has five runner-up finishes in 48 career NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts. Those five second-place results span three different tracks, which just so happen to be the next three events on the schedule.

Grosjean had a pair of runner-up finishes in 13 starts as a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing in 2021. Both happened on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, site of the Sonsio Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11.

Last season, he finished second at Barber Motorsports Park with Andretti Global. That’s the next spot the INDYCAR SERIES visits next weekend.

The other two runner-up finishes came in the last two Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach events, both with Andretti Global.

If Grosjean makes it three straight, he has a lot of work to do Sunday, coming from the 16th starting position.

In his first season in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, he said there wasn’t much that he could bring with him that worked with Andretti Global with a Honda powerplant.

“The only thing I can take is that I know what a car on the front row should feel like,” he said. “The setups are so different because we're so different at Juncos Hollinger Racing, and it's difficult to say how we should build our car that way.”

RLL Making Progress

NTT P1 Award qualifying showed Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has made big gains on street circuits.

Christian Lundgaard (seventh in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) and Graham Rahal (12th in the No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda) both advanced to the Firestone Fast 12, putting them within striking distance of a strong result in this second official event of the season.

Lundgaard qualified 17th for this event last year, and Rahal was 24th in qualifying. But Lundgaard said the team’s progress is best reflected on the time sheet.

“We need to be completely pleased with where we are this year compared to last year,” he said. “It’s a big step up. Graham and I knocking on the door – (only Pietro Fittipaldi) didn’t make it through (the first round of qualifying).

“It’s small margins, but compared to last year (where) we were a second and a half off (pole pace) and today we’re a tenth and a half off (advancing to the Firestone Fast Six), it’s a big improvement.”

Lundgaard insisted RLL cars are usually at their strongest “when the pace slows down in the races.” That bodes well in the team’s pursuit for its first series win since Lundgaard won last year’s Honda Indy Toronto. Rahal nearly won last year’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, finishing second after leading a race-high 36 laps.

Rahal is seeking his first win since sweeping the Detroit doubleheader in 2017.

Pourchaire Accepts Challenging Situation

Series newcomer Theo Pourchaire didn’t get everything out of his first qualifying session, but he wasn’t beating himself up over earning the 22nd starting position in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet as the stand-in for the injured David Malukas.

Fact is, that’s plenty impressive, and reigning FIA Formula 2 champion Pourchaire understands that.

“Of course, I’m disappointed because I’m a racing driver, and I always want to do the best job possible,” he said. “But it was my first-ever INDYCAR qualifying session. It was really fun, (and) I pushed the limits. In the end, it’s not as bad as I thought.

“I’m not so far from (Arrow McLaren teammate) Pato (O’Ward) – he’s a really good driver.”

O’Ward was only three-tenths of a second quicker than Pourchaire in qualifying. O’Ward will start 14th.

“I think I have to look at the data to understand where can I find some time on him,” Pourchaire said. “But overall … (this) is fine. We will work hard and try to improve. Tomorrow is the race, and it (will be) completely new for me.”

Honda, Chevrolet Continue Street Fight

Honda, led by Andretti Global winner Kirkwood, finished 1-2-3-4-5 here a year ago. Chevrolet finished 1-2-3-4 in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. The manufacturer led 92 of 100 laps, all by race winner Newgarden.

Did Chevrolet close the gap or does the 11-turn, 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit aid the Honda camp?

“I think we're in a really good spot with Chevrolet, as evidenced by St. Petersburg,” Newgarden said. “There’s more tracks where we need to prove that out, but I think we should have another boost here. Chevrolet has done such a good job. That's one of the reasons I feel confident is because collectively as a unit, including the Chevrolet component, we've done great work, and I think it's showing.”

Qualifying on Saturday went the other direction. While Newgarden and his Team Penske teammate Power took two of the top three starting positions, they’re the only Chevy drivers in the top 10 of the starting lineup.

“They seem to have stepped it up, for sure,” Ericsson said of Honda. “I'm expecting us to be to be right in the mix this weekend.”

Ericsson qualified fifth, one spot behind his Andretti Global teammate Herta.

Kirkwood Defends Win for First Time

Kirkwood’s 31 victories coming through the junior ranks to get to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES ranks No. 1 all time. His success was so dramatic that he would win a championship in his rookie season and graduate to the next step of the ladder system the following season.

This weekend, Kirkwood returns to the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in a rare position. This is the first time he’s come back to a track trying to defend a victory from the prior season, driving the No. 27 AutoNation Honda for Andretti Global.

While that aspect isn’t something he spends much time thinking about, he has noticed he’s considerably busier than he was for most other weekends, with media obligations and fans noticing him.

“It’s just been extremely busy, if I'm being honest,” he said. “It’s like you're here to do your job. Last year, it's kind of easy where you're fast but no one really knows who you are. You didn't really have any obligations that comes with that.”

The 2024 season is also the first time Kirkwood’s returned to a team for a second consecutive year.

“It's a good point,” Kirkwood said. “There's a lot of comfort there. It’s just nice to be with the same crew. We're pretty much identical to what we were last year when we won this race. There's a lot of good vibes throughout the team because we're back here at Long Beach, where we got our first win together.”

Odds and Ends

  • In a move to keep driver-crew continuity, Dale Coyne Racing shifted the entire No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda team to the No. 51 King Taco Honda entry of NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Nolan Siegel. That’s because INDY NXT by Firestone points leader Siegel raced the No. 18 car at The Thermal Club exhibition. Jack Harvey raced that car in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding and is back in that seat this weekend. Siegel moved to the No. 51 entry and keeps his crew from his debut at The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge to help his growth, with Harvey set to make his 81st career start Sunday.
  • Marcus Armstrong (No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) had one of the quotes of the day. “I’m sure (Sunday’s race) will be chaotic, as always, in Long Beach. It will be awesome.”
  • For the second consecutive season, reserved seats at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach are sold out. General Admission tickets are still available at or at any ticket booth at locations around the circuit.
  • The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has seen nine different winners in the last 10 years of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Alexander Rossi is the only double winner in that span, taking consecutive victories in 2018-19.