LONG BEACH, Calif – Its been a while since Simon Pagenaud got his No. 22 Chevrolet into the Fast Six. This weekend in Long Beach though, Pagenaud is showing speed that we haven’t seen in a while out of his Team Penske entry. See, he’s had to watch his teammates rack up wins and poles.
Over the last 20 races, both Will Power and Josef Newgarden have combined to win seven times. Pagenaud, unfortunately hasn’t won at all in that same time frame. See, his last victory came in the 2017 season finale in Sonoma. Since that day, he’s only scored four top five finishes. But, in his 20 starts before that, he had 15 top five’s to his credit.
Simon Pagenaud during the INDYCAR Acura GP of Long Beach
See the drop off?
Its not like he’s been bad though. Out of his last 20 starts, he has scored 16 top 10 results. In fact, if you go back to the start of the 2016 season, he has 43 top 10’s in 53 tries. That’s an amazing stat.
That’s why Pagenaud is wondering why people are asking where he’s been. The Frenchman says he’s still here and is ready to show it.
“Yeah, I wasn’t gone,” said Pagenaud after earning his first top five start of the season. “I’m still here. It’s all good.”
Pagenaud, said that making all these statements like he has this weekend is just his ego coming out. ” I’m a pretentious person, so I just said these things. Why not say it, right,?” he said. “I don’t have a chip (on his shoulder). It’s all good. I’m pretty focused, 100 percent. Yeah, might have shown some aggressiveness, fire, yeah, that’s not a bad thing.”
It never is, especially in how competitive the NTT IndyCar Series is these days. It’s not like Pagenaud forgot how to drive. I mean, he won the championship just three years ago for crying out loud.
“I personally think that it’s so competitive, and I don’t think you guys understand how — sorry, no offense,” Pagenaud continued. “I don’t think anyone outside the race car can understand how competitive this is right now, so it’s very rewarding when you have a good day, and I think it’s — as a driver you feel fully content when you’ve had a good day and you’re happy. It’s that simple.
“Qualifying for us means a lot because it’s obviously going to help you the next day, on race day, and it’s also a feeling that’s incredible, when you are that much on the limit and you do a lap like Rossi did, that’s what you dream of, that’s what you work for. So when it happens, it’s awesome. You want to do it again and again and again. That’s why we do it.”
Sixth place starter Graham Rahal agrees. The tightness and parity of the field is greater than ever before. I mean we’ve seen three different race winners this season alone by three different organizations. Here in Long Beach, we’ve had six straight years of different winners from different teams. That’s why just getting in the top five these days is such a huge accomplishment.
“The competitive nature of this, like, it drives us all, but you know if you can — it’s not even the top six anymore,” said Rahal. “You feel like if you’re in the top 10, you’ve been solid. Didn’t used to be that way, but obviously, we’d all like to be on pole. It would be even better. But I think you really have to feel a sense of like accomplishment as a team. You can see it across all our mechanics, too; everybody is happy. You make it to the Fast Six, you’ve really done something.
“Probably in Will and my first years in this, if you made it to the Fast Six then you were like decent, but you probably should have been better. And nowadays it’s just like the gap — like this morning 1.1 seconds across from 1st to 25th over a street course this long with all the bumps and curves and this and that. Nowhere else in the world, nowhere else in the world will you find racing that competitive, period. So I think it’s just — you should feel proud if you had a good day.”
So, did Pagenaud ever go anywhere? No, the field just got that much better.