21-year-old Colton Herta has looked unstoppable since his entrance into the IndyCar series, and the Andretti Autosport driver proved his competence behind the wheel after smoothly dominating the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from pole position. He barely made a mistake the entire day, responding to the disappointment of his first-lap crash at the opening race of the year. Even his race-winning donuts were perfect.
The race kicked off with Colton Herta in pole position, leading a clean first lap that saw the top drivers maintaining the positions they qualified in: Herta followed by Jack Harvey, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, and Sebastien Bourdais. The latter driver held onto his fifth place despite suffering some pre-race issues that almost saw him miss the formation lap.
The first safety car popped out on lap 16 after an embarrassing incident involving Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time NASCAR champion locked up his tires and bumped into the tire barrier on lap 16. His car continued to run, but he couldn’t figure out how to reverse. Because the car was still running, IndyCar was slow to throw a full-course yellow flag, which let many drivers duck into the pits before the safety car.
When the restart came on lap 21, there were several incidences of contact. Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe slapped tires, leaving Hinch limping back to the pits with a flat. Then, Will Power and Romain Grosjean did the same, with Grosjean then bumping into the wall in several different places. The contact between those latter two drivers allowed Ed Jones to make up two places.
For drivers who had opted for a two-stop strategy, pit stops began on lap 35.
Coming out of a slow pit stop, Alexander Rossi fell victim to a passing attempt by Graham Rahal. Rossi suffered a flat tire and hit the tire barriers, stalling his car. It took him a while to restart the car and limp back to the pits. Rahal was able to reverse and drive away quickly, staying on the lead lap. Rossi came back onto the track in 22nd, two laps down.
This was also the first time there was a significant shakeup at the front, with Newgarden and Pagenaud passing Harvey. Scott Dixon had also moved his way to the top five.
The next bit of chaos struck on lap 71, when Dalton Kellett ran wide and Jimmie Johnson slipped, crashing into the wall in the same place Rossi crashed in 2020. It brought out a yellow that sliced Herta’s 10-second lead down to absolutely nothing when the green flag flew with 24 laps to go. That left Josef Newgarden, with tons of push-to-pass, right on his tail.
A caution came out on lap 21 after Ed Jones spun his Dale Coyne Racing No. 18, having made contact with Hinchcliffe. It meant the Team Penske drivers would have another shot at sneaking in front of Herta on the restart.
Green flew with 18 laps to go, and the only pass right at the start was a pass by Will Power on Scott McLaughlin for a top-10 position. No one could take on Herta’s dominance.