Colton Herta fends off Josef Newgarden for IndyCar victory in Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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Nate Ryan
·4 min read
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Colton Herta dominated to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, leading nearly the entire distance from the pole position for an NTT IndyCar Series victory Sunday on the 1.8-mile street course.

Herta, 21, built some massive leads of over 10 seconds, but he had to fend off a strong charge by Josef Newgarden because of two cautions in the final 25 laps.

He led 97 of 100 laps and won by 2.4933 seconds in stark contrast to his 22nd-place finish last week at Barber Motorsports Park.

“What a great job by everybody,” Herta told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “Sorry if I can barely talk, I’m so winded. I’m so happy to rebound from Barber and get the momentum going this season that we need, which is a championship season.”

Herta now has four victories in IndyCar, three when starting from the pole. Sunday was his first victory for Herta with his father, Bryan, as his race strategist after the former IndyCar winner took over the role for the 2021 season on the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

“That was awesome, and I tied him for wins today, too, which is even more special,” Herta said. “Love that he’s on my radio, and they all did an amazing job. Oh, what a hell of a job.”

Herta particularly came under attack from Newgarden (who had a fresher soft tire compound) on a restart with 24 laps to go.

“He’s so good around here and props to him and his guys, they’ve done a great job this year, too,” said Herta, who was notably exhausted after racing full tilt for nearly two hours in 90% humidity. “I was nervous because he was on those new red tires, and I thought they were going to be better, but they ended up being similar. I was able to hold him off, and oh man, I can’t even speak right now.”

Said Bryan Herta: “Super proud of him. He did such a great job. We had a game plan. We executed really well. We didn’t want to see those couple of late-race yellows. We know what a great competitor that Josef Newgarden is, and you put him on red tires on restarts, we knew we were going to have our hands full. But Colton didn’t put a foot wrong.”

Newgarden, who was trying to become the first driver to win three consecutive in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, finished second, followed by Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, Jack Harvey and Scott Dixon.

“I just didn’t want to overextend myself today,” Newgarden, who caused the crash on Lap 1 of the season opener at Barber that collected Herta, told NBC Sports reporter Dave Burns. “I had a close to an opportunity, but Colton was really good, and he was doing a great job on the restarts. I pushed really hard and didn’t have quite the run I needed, so I didn’t want to risk anything.

“But a good day. … If I have an opportunity, I’m going to go for a win. I was very close to having just enough of that opportunity. I was just a little shy of it. I didn’t want to force something. Happy with the podium, and we obviously want to win, but we’re on the board now.”

Herta’s victory was the 66th for Andretti Autosport and third at St. Petersburg (but first since James Hinchcliffe in 2013), and it came on a largely forgettable day for the team’s other three drivers.

Alexander Rossi finished multiple laps down after a collision with Graham Rahal in Turn 5 on Lap 37. The incident occurred a lap after Rossi had pitted, and despite the cold tires on his No. 27 Dallara-Honda, he didn’t yield when challenged by the faster car of Rahal entering the corner.

Rossi suffered a flat right-front tire, sending him back to the pits under green.

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Andretti driver James Hinchcliffe was involved in multiple shunts and finished a lap down, and Ryan Hunter-Reay also wasn’t a factor after starting 13th.

Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 23rd of 24 drivers, had an inauspicious street course debut in IndyCar, causing two full-course caution flags.

The first came when he went off course in Turn 13 on Lap 15.

After gently tapping a tire barrier, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was unable to put his No. 48 Dallara-Honda in reverse, which necessitated a full-course yellow two laps later.

After returning to the track four laps down, Johnson spun in Turn 3 and made light left-front contact with the wall. He was able to continue without assistance this time, but the yellow still flew.

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Colton Herta fends off Josef Newgarden for IndyCar victory in Grand Prix of St. Petersburg originally appeared on NBCSports.com