LONG BEACH, Calif. — Colton Herta is so good on the downtown streets of Long Beach, and was so strong this weekend, that a second consecutive victory in his home race seemed automatic.
Not so fast, scowled Josef Newgarden, who went to sleep the night before Sunday's IndyCar race stewing over a question he'd been asked after qualifying by a reporter who inquired: "At what point does Colton Herta check out tomorrow?"
"Like, what is that? I thought it was such a bizarre question, and I went to bed last night and I went, 'You know what? That kid is not checking out. There's just no way,'" Newgarden said.
And so Newgarden kept Herta in sight when the Andretti Autosport driver pulled away after starting in pole position. Herta led the first 28 laps, but Newgarden chipped away and used strategy and pit stops to move to the front and win for the second consecutive race.
It was the 31-year-old Nashville native's first career victory in 10 starts at the most prestigious street course race in the United States. He was the leader in the 2011 Indy Lights race when he crashed with two laps remaining.
"It's a huge pleasure to finally be able to win around this place," said Newgarden, a two-time season champion who now has 22 victories in his IndyCar career. "It's pretty special to finally get one."
Newgarden led a race-high 32 laps to move Team Penske to 3-0 this season. Scott McLaughlin won the Feb. 27 season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, and then Newgarden won last month at Texas Motor Speedway and now in Long Beach to bump McLaughlin from the lead in the points standings.
Roger Penske's organization had most recently opened an IndyCar season with three consecutive wins in 2012, when the team won the first four races.
Newgarden was challenged over the final 15 laps by Romain Grosjean, the former Formula One driver seeking his first IndyCar victory. Jimmie Johnson, who broke his hand in a crash Friday and raced with a carbon fiber cast, crashed with 10 laps remaining to bring out the caution and give Grosjean and reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou a shot on a final restart.
The race went green with five laps remaining, and Grosjean got several good looks inside of Newgarden but couldn't pull even to attempt a winning pass. Takuma Sato crashed with a lap remaining to bring out a final caution, and Newgarden won under yellow.
"This is not an easy race to win. I don't know what it looked like from the outside, but I was working my butt off with Grosjean there at the end," Newgarden said.
Grosjean finished second for Andretti Autosport, which was seeking a fourth consecutive win at Long Beach. Andretti driver Alexander Rossi won in 2018 and 2019, and Herta won in 2021.
Herta had ceded the lead to Newgarden before crashing out of the race with 29 laps remaining. He said he was pushing too hard.
"It's just a stupid mistake. We were definitely in that thing," Herta said. "It's unfortunate. I feel really bad. The car was fantastic. Just overdid it a little bit today."
Palou finished third for his 10th podium finish in 19 races since joining Chip Ganassi Racing at the start of last year.
Will Power of Team Penske was fourth and Pato O'Ward salvaged his sloppy start to the season with a fifth-place finish. The Arrow McLaren SP driver was expected to be a championship contender but has made mistakes in each of the first three race weekends and is admittedly distracted by his desire for a new contract.
Scott Dixon was sixth for Ganassi, followed by Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and then Rossi. Helio Castroneves was ninth for Meyer Shank Racing and Kyle Kirkwood was 10th for A.J. Foyt Racing.
Johnson finished 20th to close one of the worst weekends of his career. He broke his hand in Friday's crash, crashed again in practice Saturday, was penalized his two fastest laps in qualifying for interfering with Rahal, then crashed out of the race Sunday.
"I've had (bad weekends) before," said Johnson, who won a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series season championships before joining the IndyCar circuit. "But it comes with it. I certainly feel bad that I put the team in this position. This deal isn't easy. You've got to live on the razor's edge on the street races, and there's no margin for error. Trying to be faster, trying to be more competitive, I made some mistakes this weekends and will learn from them."
IndyCar's next race is May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
F1: Leclerc on top Down Under
MELBOURNE, Australia — Riding high after a decisive victory for Ferrari in the Australian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc's belief in the team's prospects are growing by the race.
Formula One's return to Albert Park for the first time since 2019 — the Australian GP was canceled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic — was billed as a showdown between Leclerc and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, but Sunday's race finished with the Ferrari driver as a one-sided winner.
Leclerc now has 71 points in the season championship standings, giving him a 34-point lead over teammate Carlos Sainz. Leclerc added the fourth win of his F1 career and his second this year, with the the 24-year-old from Monaco having won the season opener in Bahrain last month.
A crowd of 128,294 were treated to an emphatic triumph by Leclerc, who was able to hold off Verstappen during the opening laps and defended well mid-race under safety car conditions to pull away for a decisive victory, with his winning margin 20.524 seconds.
"What a car today. Of course, I did a good job all weekend, but it was not possible without the car," said Leclerc, who is the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in Singapore in 2010 to complete an F1 race weekend grand slam by winning the pole position, leading wire to wire and posting the fastest time.
Leclerc had a best lap of 1 minute, 20.260 seconds to close.
Engine failure forced Verstappen, the 2021 season champion, out of the race on the 38th lap. Perez overcame a slow start to take second, ahead of the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, who were followed by McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
F1 returns to the track on April 24 in Italy for the Imola GP.