ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Josef Newgarden wanted to thank the pet service that helped him adopt his 30-pound mutt, Axel, that has become part of his family.
The Team Penske driver repaid the shelter — literally — with his performance behind the wheel.
Newgarden earned a $1 million bonus Sunday for winning at Road America, where his third win of the season completed a trifecta of victories on IndyCar's different circuits. That means, among other things, he Nashville chapter of Wags and Walks can build a new dog adoption center.
“They solve all sorts of dogs - all sorts,” Newgarden said. “You should hear some of these heartbreaking stories these guys go through to find these dogs homes. We’re very happy to be able to get some money to this group because they’ve done a lot for us and for a lot of people in Nashville."
Newgarden won on the oval at Texas and the street course in Long Beach this season, and headed to Road America searching for a road course win that would make him the first IndyCar driver this season to win on all three circuits.
The reward was a $1 million payout from The PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge, which split the bonus between Team Penske and charities of Newgarden's choice. The American selected Wags and Walks of Nashville and SeriousFun Children’s Network.
“To have something like this challenge, I think, just fires you up more competitively,” Newgarden said. “You want to get it done for them.”
The heads of both charities participated in Newgarden's post-race press conference via Zoom to thank the driver.
“We are absolutely so, so thrilled,” said Kathryn Hurley of Wags and Walks. “It’s going to impact literally thousands of dogs here in Nashville and allow us to build an amazing adoption center.”
It was the first year of the challenge and was won before the halfway point of the IndyCar season; Newgarden is the only driver with multiple wins through eight of 17 races.
Newgarden beat Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing by 3.371-seconds following two late restarts, but Ericsson reclaimed the points lead with the runner-up finish.
It's the seventh time the points lead has changed hands this season.
“I think it's going to be a tough season, a long season, but we've put ourselves in really good position now going into this sort of second half,” Ericsson said. “We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing.”
Alexander Rossi, the Andretti Autosport driver who started on the pole in search of his first win in three years, finished third and was followed by teammates Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta.
Chevrolet won the race with Newgarden, but Honda took the next four spots. Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren SP and Scott McLaughlin of Penske were sixth and seventh for Chevy.
Newgarden had a 2.8-second lead over Rossi when Pato O'Ward's engine failed with six laps remaining to set up the first late restart. Then Helio Castroneves spun for another caution.
Newgarden got a great jump on Rossi on both late restarts and never looked back.
Rossi had his hands full first with Ericsson, and then with his own teammates, as his losing streak extended to 45 races. His pole-winning run Saturday was his first in three years.
“It’s always a little disappointing when you start on the pole and can’t convert, but it was generally a good day," Rossi said. "I think Josef had a little bit better pace than us. I think we were the second-best car. I got pretty aggressive on the restart there to try and do something and just kind of overstepped a little bit. That’s what allowed Marcus to get by.”
Newgarden won for the second time at Road America, as he also won here in 2018. He was headed toward the win a year ago until his gearbox failed in the closing laps and it handed the win to reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou.
“I had no thought about (last year),” Newgarden said. “I was just focused on today. The thing that I focused on is we're in position.. You don't have many opportunities to be in position to close. I wanted to just close.”
TITLE CONTENDERS STRUGGLE
Palou’s chances of defending last year's win vanished almost immediately due to an early tangle with Ganassi teammate Ericsson. When Ericsson made a move to Palou’s inside, the right rear of the Swede's car made contact with the front left of Palou’s, and the Spaniard went off course.
“He was trying to win the race on the third lap,” Palou said. “The car broke. That’s it. Game over.”
Ericsson said he did nothing wrong.
“It might have been early in the race, but this is a track position race,” Ericsson said. “If you get an opportunity, you need to go for it. There was nothing wrong with that move.”
Will Power, meanwhile, dropped from the IndyCar points lead because of his own early incident. A poor qualifying effort put Power in 15th at the start and he was hit from behind by rookie Devlin DeFrancesco just eight laps into the race. Power ended up 19th.
DeFrancesco received a stop-and-go penalty for making avoidable contact. Power dropped to second in the standings, 27 points behind Ericsson.
O'Ward's engine failure dropped him from third to fourth in the standings; Palou dropped from fourth to fifth. The win for Newgarden, meanwhile, moved him from fifth to third.
JIMMIE'S EARLY SPIN
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson had a frustrating day because of contact with Tatiana Calderon at the back of the pack on the first lap. Johnson went off course to bring out a full-course yellow. He finished 24th.
Calderon was in the field with Simona de Silvestro, marking the first time an IndyCar event has included two female drivers since de Silvestro and Pippa Mann entered the 2015 Indianapolis 500.
Not all of Newgarden's bonus money is going to charity. He also gets quite a payout himself and isn't sure how he will spend it all.
But he does have a good idea about his first purchase.
“Probably a bunch of McDonald's," Newgarden said. “Probably over $100 at McDonald's at least.”
There’s a two-week break in the IndyCar schedule before the July 3 race at Mid-Ohio in Lexington, Ohio. Josef Newgarden won at Mid-Ohio last year.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports