MADISON, Ill – Simon Pagenaud has a really good shot of closing the championship deficit he has on his teammate Josef Newgarden in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings again on Saturday night in Gateway. Pagenaud, has two top four finishes in as many tries on the 1.25-mile St. Louis area race track.
Newgarden, won the race at Gateway back in 2017 but was only seventh last year. He may have won the pole but the Tennessee native had troubles with his engine in final practice too. Also, in three of the last four times Newgarden won the pole for an Indy Car race, he finished ninth or worst in those events.
We know the race win will likely come down to Pagenaud or one of his teammates though, as Penske has won three of the four short oval races under this new car that was adopted in 2018 as well as six of the last seven overall. They’ve also won five straight oval races and 13 of the last 18 too.
Penske, has won the last four races at Gateway as well.
That’s all great news for Pagenaud. So is this – he’s finished better than Newgarden in two straight races and three of the last four too. That’s propelled him to 40 points out. He was over 60 points arrears a few races ago.
With Alexander Rossi’s crash last weekend in Pocono as well, Pagenaud has also out paced him in three of the last four races. Can he keep this incremental gain going into the final two races of the season?
“I’m pretty happy to start up front,” said Pagenaud after qualifying fourth for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500. “Penske cars have shown quite good speed. The cars coming alive for us. This morning wasn’t very good but we showed some speed in quali. There’s still some room to go.”
Speaking of room to go, Pagenaud said following the second race on the streets of Belle Isle back in June that he learned a lot after he came back out for his car having to be repaired for crash damage to carry over to Toronto. It paid off too. He led 80 of 85 laps that day after being quickest in both days of practice, starting on the pole and leading all but five laps in the race.
Fast forward to Iowa. He had a fast car but struggled with the handling as the race went on. With Gateway being another short oval being run under the lights, did he learn anything from Iowa that could be applied to this weekend?
“Definitely,” Pagenaud said. “We will see in practice tonight if it confirms what we learned in Iowa. “It will give us a very clear direction where to go. We just have to get an understanding on where it is we need to go. We’re getting close. I’m pretty excited.”
If Pagenaud can get a win on Saturday night, it only adds to what he calls as the most fun year he’s had in racing. Even more so than a championship winning season in 2016.
“Absolutely,” Pagenaud said of chasing down Newgarden for the title. “I believe in Pocono we could have had a good finish for the win in the end. That would have been good points. We finished third. I think we’ve been really, really strong since Indy really.
“I’m having the time of my life. I’m enjoying this season a lot more than any other season. Having won Indy really allows me to enjoy it even more and be even more focused.”