For the 16th year in a row, the IndyCar title fight came down to the final race, but the spice was taken out of the fight after a first-lap crash guaranteed Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing his first-ever championship, which also made him the first teammate of Scott Dixon’s to outperform the New Zealander since Dario Franchitti was part of the team. Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport took victory in the race, his sixth of the IndyCar Series.
When the green flag flew at Long Beach, a top pack composed largely of the Firestone Fast 6 pulled away from the rest almost immediately. Polesitter Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon ran side by side toward the first turn, but it was Newgarden who pulled away in the lead. There were a handful of passes on that first lap: James Hinchcliffe, then Felix Rosenqvist and Romain Grosjean on Simon Pagenaud.
Unfortunately, before the lap was up, Ed Jones crashed into the rear of championship contender Pato O’Ward. O’Ward spun and stopped in the middle of the track. Several drivers were forced to bunch up and make contact, as O’Ward only pulled out after the field had passed. Jones was given a drive-through penalty for the contact, but it definitely removed some of the sizzle of the season finale.
The green flag flew again ahead of lap four. It was a slow start for Newgarden, which allowed Dixon to threaten a pass but it ultimately didn’t happen.
O’Ward later suffered gearbox issues that saw him limp back to the pit lane on lap 18. Not only did a retirement take away O’Ward’s chance for a championship, but it killed his hope of maintaining second in the championship.
On lap 18 and 19, drivers began to pit while O’Ward stalled on the track. The caution came out a lap later after man of the race leaders pitted. It was another instance of IndyCar opting against throwing a yellow at a point that would cause issues with the race, though it did put O’Ward in the path of harm.
Another green flew on lap 24, with Helio Castroneves in the lead as a result of the pit stop shuffle.
Two laps later, Marcus Ericsson brought out a yellow flag after crashing into the tire barriers. Ericsson ran wide after battling with Alexander Rossi; there was no contact, but Ericsson just didn’t make the corner. That forced several drivers to make yellow-flag pit stops that filtered them to the back of the grid.
Castroneves maintained his lead on the 31st lap despite having not pitted yet. Meanwhile, Colton Herta tailed Dixon; the young driver was the biggest mover of the race and made the pass via a very aggressive move. One lap later, Herta pushed past Newgarden to take what would be the lead once the two drivers in front of him pitted.
On lap 34, Callum Ilott lost control of his car and stalled on the track, bringing out a local yellow. It encouraged Castroneves to finally make his stop.
On lap 50, Pato O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP was repaired and pushed back out to the track in an effort to scrape together as many championship points as possible.
The final round of pit stops kicked off four laps later, with Team Penske’s Nos. 12 and 22 as some of the first cars to enter the pits. Herta followed right after from the lead with a gap of almost nine seconds on Newgarden.
During his final pit stop, Romain Grosjean stopped and didn’t return to the track immediately after brushing the wall and damaging his car. He eventually retired from the race. That guaranteed Scott McLaughlin Rookie of the Year honors.
Oliver Askew and Conor Daly were battling for position when it all went wrong for both of them on lap 62. Daly had to run wide, where he stalled. Askew got the shorter end of the stick, crashing into the tire barriers. It brought out a full course yellow. Askew was freed from the tires and made it back to the pits for a new front wing.
The green flew ahead of lap 66, and Herta got a great start ahead of Newgarden in second place. It remained that way until the final five laps, when Newgarden got closer and closer to Herta. It wasn’t meant to be for the Penske driver; Herta took his second victory in a row.
- Colton Herta
- Josef Newgarden
- Scott Dixon
- Alex Palou
- Simon Pagenaud
- Alexander Rossi
- Jack Harvey
- Sebastien Bourdais
- Takuma Sato
- Will Power