Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden thought the pivotal late-race contact delivered by Colton Herta was uncalled for, and Herta didn’t disagree. But Newgarden stopped short of saying the hairpin controversy cost him a victory in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“I’m not going to say we were going to get (Scott) Dixon (for the win),” he said. “It was actually very difficult for me to get the run that I needed to (to get the lead). I think traffic was going to provide me opportunities.

“I was really excited about (passing Dixon on the ensuing straightaway). I think it was going to be my last chance, (but you) never know if you’re going to pull it off or not. Maybe not. He was really quick.”

But Newgarden liked his chances to win the event for the second time in three years. Whereas Dixon spent most of the race in fuel-saving mode, Newgarden was under no such restrictions. That allowed him to run down six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon. Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, was being patient in the waning laps, waiting for his opportunity to pounce for his 31st career race win.

Once Newgarden got within striking distance of Dixon, his car seemed to bog down, likely a result of the turbulent air tossed his way from the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Newgarden spent several laps dogging Dixon as Herta and Alex Palou drew closer. Within a few laps it was a four-car battle for the lead, and it was shaping up to be a doozy of a finish.

The controversial contact from Herta came in the final corner of Lap 77 (of 85), and the nose of Herta’s car forced Newgarden’s rear wheels off the ground, leading Newgarden’s engine to engage the anti-stall mechanism. Dixon was the beneficiary as he scooted away from his challengers.

“It seemed pretty obvious,” Newgarden said of the blame going to Herta. “He just misjudged it and got into me.”

Herta accepted that assessment – to a degree.

“I think (Newgarden) set up pretty wide and he was cutting back in, so he was a little bit slower at apex,” he said. “But ultimately it’s up to me to carry the right speed into the corner and not run into the back of people, and I just misjudged it.

“It would have been fine, (but) I think (his engine) went into anti-stall in the corner, and that’s what (dropped) him back (to the fourth position). But yeah, definitely something to put in the back of my mind. I don’t like to race like that, especially a guy like Josef that I have a lot of respect for.”

Herta was briefly slowed by the incident, too, but he passed Newgarden and then scrambled back for his chance to pass Dixon. But Herta, too, fell short and finished second. Palou finished third.

Newgarden was resigned to the fact he had a good weekend and heads to next week’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix powered by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park with a 12-point series lead. He won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, giving him a pair of top-four finishes to open a season in which he is chasing a third series championship.

“We had a great car, great strategy, (and) we had great speed all weekend,” Newgarden said. “I think we have to be really happy with fourth. I’m just not sure about the Herta deal. I think they should probably look at that differently. If you hit somebody …

“It is what it is. If we’ve got to take a fourth, we’ll take a fourth.”