Last year, the rescheduled Long Beach Grand Prix was something like a coronation for Colton Herta. The young Andretti star was untouchably fast in every session he finished with a clean car, including a race where he got caught up in an opening lap incident and won anyway. When he took pole in dominant fashion yesterday, it looked like today could have gone the same way.
Unfortunately for Herta, it did not.
Herta led the entire first stint, but a long first stop and a strong three-lap undercut from reigning champion Alex Palou saw him fall to third, behind both Palou and Newgarden. When Palou made his second stop, Herta had the chance to push hard to make up the gap created by the previous undercut. Instead, he ended up in the wall outside turn 9. Newgarden stopped immediately, and took the lead on the same overcut Herta had been hoping to leverage. Newgarden had to defend a couple of moves from Palou on his out lap, but he held the lead.
Then, Simon Pagenaud spun in the fountain corner. In an attempt to turn himself back around, he dug his way into the titular fountain's famous bed of flowers. That brought out a caution, and that caution led to a restart where Marcus Ericsson spun on his own from third. That created an opening for Romain Grosjean, newly promoted to third and on the softer red tires, to attack the leaders. Grosjean moved past Palou for second on his second attempt to move on the outside before turn 1, then he got up to Newgarden's bumper with 12 to go.
With ten to go, a two-car crash led to another caution. Grosjean's more worn soft tires, combined with his completely spent reserve of push-to-pass overboost opportunities, left him with little left to attack Newgarden. He stayed with the leader on the final restart, but he had no real shot to make a winning move even before a caution came out for a single-car crash on the final lap. Newgarden would go on to win his second race of the season in three tries.
That puts Josef Newgarden in a great position to fight for his third career championship. Misfortunes for so many other contenders, including Herta's crash today and a long day of minor incidents for St. Petersburg winner Scott McLaughlin, have put him in position to potentially rip off a strong month of May and come out of the Indianapolis 500 with significant control of the championship standings before the Summer even begins.
That makes the next IndyCar race, held at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama three weeks from today, all the more important. Drivers like Herta, McLaughlin, Palou, Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Pato O'Ward all came into this season with a real hope they might contend for the 2022 championship. If they want to do that, they'll need to stop Newgarden while they still can.