Colton Herta dominates from pole at St. Petersburg for fourth career IndyCar win, tying father Bryan

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It was new territory for the Herta family duo, but neither Bryan, nor Colton, backed down from the fight.

With 17 laps to go, a second restart in less than 10 laps and the two-time Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg defending champion Josef Newgarden on his rear wing equipped with racier red Firestone tires, the younger Herta did what he’d done all day – drove away from the competition, with his father in his ear.

And who was more nervous?

“Neither of us,” Bryan said in the pits Sunday just ahead of that final restart on the NBC broadcast.

Colton sure didn’t look it Sunday, starting on pole, the fifth of his career, and leading all but three laps to cruise to his fourth IndyCar win to give him at least one in the first three full seasons of his still young career. His 97 laps led set a St. Pete race record, topping Helio Castroneves’ record of 95 set in 2007.

“P1 baby! Good job!” Bryan said over the radio to his son just after he crossed the finish line, before okaying his donuts in Turn 1 and reminding him to wave to his fans on his victory lap.

The victory tied him in the record books with his father, who drove parts of 12 seasons in both CART and the IRL from 1994 to 2006.

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“That was awesome,” Herta said post-race. “I love that (my dad) is on my radio.”.

It capped a dominant weekend for Herta, who proved strong in practices Friday and Saturday and then edged Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey for the pole Saturday afternoon by nearly a quarter-second – a key, Herta believed, would prove massive come Sunday. Especially, he said, after their season-opening day all but ended on Lap 1 at Barber Motorsports Park when Herta got caught up in a crash from a Newgarden spin.

“Clean air is going to be a big thing tomorrow,” Herta said Saturday. “It’s so important to be able to stretch your feet here (at St. Pete). You saw me and Rossi got out last year and were able to build a huge gap.

“If we can get a win, that would give the team so much confidence. We do have a hole to dig out of, so why not start here?”.

Newgarden, who started third, settled for 2nd-place after finishing second-to-last a week ago from the spin and Lap 1 contact.

“We just lost too much ground in that second stint, and then that caution almost gifted us another chance (to try and take the lead),” Newgarden said post-race. “I didn’t want to over-extend myself today. We had a little opportunity, but Colton was too good.

“We didn’t have quite the run we needed, so I didn’t want to risk anything. It was a great rebound for both of us. I felt really bad with what happened last week.”.

Newgarden was followed by another Team Penske rebound from Simon Pagenaud, who finished 12th a week ago and landed in 3rd Sunday.

Jack Harvey, who started on the front row Sunday, took fourth, followed by Scott Dixon in fifth for his second consecutive top-5 to start 2021. Takuma Sato and Marcus Ericsson both picked up nine spots from 15th and 16th to 6th and 7th, respectively, followed by Will Power’s surge up the field picking up 12 spots from 20th to 8th. Rinus VeeKay (9th) and Sebastien Bourdais (10th) rounded out the top-10.

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With their solid qualifying efforts Saturday, Herta, Harvey, Newgarden and company managed to avoid what became a bundle of chaos behind them throughout Sunday’s race.

Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Jimmie Johnson brought out the first yellow of the afternoon when, on Lap 15, he locked up his tires headed into Turn 13 and slid in for a tap of the tire barrier. It took Johnson several laps working with his crew on the radio to keep the engine on and put it into reverse successfully, and eventually on Lap 17, race control called a full-course yellow, just before Johnson was able to get moving out on-track again.

He finished 22nd, five laps down, ahead of Max Chilton and Dalton Kellett after Chilton retired from the race less than 20 laps in due to a mechanical failure and Kellett spun just past the halfway mark and was left by the safety team for the remainder of the race.

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  • A couple of laps after Johnson’s spin, Sato dove to the inside for a top-15 battle with James Hinchcliffe on Lap 23, and the two smacked front tires, flatting the right-front of the No. 29 car – reminiscent of the contact Sato made with Andretti back in October that ended Marco’s race and season.

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    Forced to make an extra stop, Hinchcliffe eventually finished a lap down in 18th.

    Lap 37 led to more serious contact between the Andretti and Rahal Letterman Lanigan teams. With Alexander Rossi on cold tires just after a pit stop, Graham Rahal made a move to the inside on Turn 4 as both drivers had looked the raciest all afternoon while snagging several early spots and homing in on the top-5.

    Rossi turned into Rahal for the initial contact, with the two slamming into each other twice more before both finally came to a stop in the tire barrier. Rossi immediately flattened his right-front and for a moment couldn’t get the car into reverse and back on track. Eventually he was able to get in into gear and dove into the pits for a front wing repair and new tires. He finished the day in 21st, two laps down.

    Johnson would bring out the next caution with 27 laps to go, just moments after his final pit stop, with a spin coming out of Turn 3 on cold tires. He spun around and made contact with the inside wall with both his left front wing and rear tires, but spun back around and finished the race.

    Ed Jones brought out the final caution of the day, diving in deep in Turn 4 on Hinchcliffe on Lap 80, making contact with the No. 29, before being spun around by Pato O’Ward seconds later.

    Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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