Josef Newgarden pitted at exactly the right time to benefit from a full-course caution, vaulting him ahead of leading teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, while Will Power and Scott Dixon clashed on the opening lap.
A Penske-Chevrolet took the lead at the start but it wasn’t polesitter Simon Pagenaud but Helio Castroneves who went barreling down the inside from third on the grid to grab the lead.
Simultaneously, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon dived down the inside of Will Power at Turn 1 to take fourth, but at Turn 3, Dixon swung wide under braking behind Graham Rahal and it struck Power’s front-right wheel and bounced him into the wall. The Penske-Chevrolet was mortally wounded with broken right-front suspension, as Dixon got a punctured left-rear tire and damaged rear brake duct.
Dixon got back to the pits and picked up black tires and the team elected to go off strategy.
The restart would mean Castroneves ahead of Pagenaud, Graham Rahal in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda, Josef Newgarden in (Penske), James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda), and the Andretti Autosport trio of Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, ahead of Tony Kanaan (Ganassi) and JR Hildebrand of Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet.
Everyone behaved themselves on the restart and held position, but the left-rear brake duct was seen to fly off Dixon’s car who was at the back but on the lead lap. His misery really mounted when he was assessed a drive-through penalty for entering a closed pit and taking on more service than was necessary.
Andretti moved past Kanaan for eighth place on Lap 10, but two laps later TK was back in front, leaving Andretti to fend off Hildebrand. In fact it was Spencer Pigot – the only driver who had started on black tires – who made his way forward and passed Andretti on Lap 18, with Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing-Honda following suit a lap later. Pigot kept charging and was up to eighth, ahead of Kanaan on Lap 20, and at Turn 8 he got Takuma Sato, too.
Meanwhile James Hinchliffe had backed up this group, his fifth placed SPM car 13 secs behind the Top 4, and Pigot wasted no time getting past him to grab fifth. Hinch took the hint and dived into the pits for blacks, as Rossi had the lap before.
On Lap 23 out came the full course yellow, as Kanaan, who’d just pitted, slid off at Turn 1 on his cold tires. Newgarden had pitted in time, before the race went yellow and the pits got closed, but the leaders got hosed and shuffled to the back.
Newgarden would therefore restart ahead of Jones (who didn’t pit), Kimball, Rossi, Hinchcliffe, Munoz (no pit), Andretti, Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastian Saavedra, with Dixon in 12th. The ones who pitted under caution – Castroneves, Pagenaud, Rahal, Pigot, Sato, Hildebrand were in positions 14 through 19.
The restart stayed fairly clean, through Turn 1, and even through Turn 3, but Kimball got past Jones for second on Lap 29, and Sato pitted with a broken front wing and a puncture. Coyne’s tactics of keeping Jones out and making him work his worn red tires wasn’t yet paying off, as Rossi passed him for third around the outside of Turn 3, and soon local hero Hinchcliffe was also ahead of the DCR #19.
Munoz attempted to get Jones, got pushed wide and Andretti pounced and passed the AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy. Jones finally pitted on Lap 33.
Kimball was keeping the pressure on Newgarden up front, running within a second of the leader by Lap 36, but Rossi was closing fast, with Hinchcliffe a further 4sec back but 4.5 ahead of Andretti.
Dixon pitted on Lap 35, and Munoz did the same a lap later, with Kimball stopping the #83 Ganassi car on Lap 38.
That gave Rossi a clear run at Newgarden, and they started trading fastest laps, but Newgarden then started stretching away, raising the gap to 5sec.
The leaders who’d lost out due to the yellow flags – Pagenaud, Castroneves and Rahal – were eighth, ninth and 10th, Pagenaud running behind Saavedra’s #7 SPM-Honda, as the Colombian performed a sterling job filling in for the benched Mikhail Aleshin.
Further back, Gutierrez pitted and emerged right behind leader Newgarden, but then Josef too stopped on Lap 54, and Rossi, Hinchcliffe, Andretti and Hunter-Reay did the same. This promoted Chilton into the lead before handing over P1 to Pagenaud, while Castroneves pitted. Rahal also stopped but a lap later.
On Lap 57, Pagenaud stopped handing the lead back to Newgarden who was still being chased by Rossi – albeit at a gap now down to 3.6sec – Hinchcliffe, Dixon (way off-sequence) and Andretti. Pagenaud fed back into sixth but lost it at Turn 3 to the warm-tired Hunter-Reay, who resumed chasing teammate Andretti.
Dixon made his last stop on Lap 61 and emerged 11th, promoting Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Chilton, Castroneves, Saavedra and Rahal.
Andretti was coming under pressure from Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Chilton, as RHR hugged the inside line for Turn 1 all down the front straight to hold back Pagenaud. The stewards investigated then dismissed it, and their battle gave Andretti some breathing room.
With 15 of the 85 laps still to go, Newgarden was around 30sec ahead of Rossi, who was 5.3 ahead of Hinchcliffe, who had a 13sec margin over Andretti who nonetheless seemed set for his best result of the year. Surprisingly, Pagenaud had still not managed to find a way past Hunter-Reay.
Nine laps later, Pagenaud tried to go down the inside of Hunter-Reay into Turn 3, but ran wide, allowing the yellow car to retaliate on corner exit and regain fifth place. On Lap 81, Hunter-Reay ran wide at Turn 7 and Pagenaud ducked through and rocketed away to try and catch Andretti.
Saavedra ran out of push to pass while sitting behind Castroneves and lost ninth and 10th places to Rahal and Dixon.
There was vague excitement in the closing laps as Newgarden got caught behind a battle for 16th behind Takuma Sato and Conor Daly, but they were running fast enough to not hinder the Penske driver too badly. He crossed the line still 1.87sec clear of Rossi, who nonetheless picked up his first podium since winning the 2016 Indy 500.
Hinchcliffe finished third in his home race for the second straight year, 14sec ahead of Andretti who staved off Pagenaud all the way to the checkers.
Hunter-Reay and Chilton confined Castroneves to eighth but crucially ahead of title rival Dixon who finished 10th, right behind Rahal.