INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud did the unthinkable on Saturday. Drivers struggle to come from a starting spot outside of the top five these days in the NTT IndyCar Series and win.
That’s a testament to how competitive this series is.
The last four winners of the INDYCAR Grand Prix had come from the pole. All five previous years have seen the winner come from the top 2 Rows. In fact, every race winner this season has started in the top four including 10 of the last 11 overall.
Pagenaud, started eighth.
Simon Pagenaud celebrates in joy after winning Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix – INDYCAR Media Site
Then, there’s the whole thing about him restarting the race in sixth. While he did pick cars off once the race went green, he was still over 6 seconds behind leader Scott Dixon with five laps-to-go.
Pagenaud, made up that gap and more. He beat Dixon by 2.0469-seconds. But, it wasn’t just the unthinkable to why Pagenaud was so joyful in victory lane and after, it was that Saturday showed that he’s just as good of a driver now than he’s ever been.
See, after another what some people have called a slow start to the season by Pagenaud, his name has been on the chopping block with Team Penske. Alexander Rossi is a free agent at seasons ends and it’s no secret Penske is after the talented American driver. The problem is, who would Penske let go in the pursuit of him?
Josef Newgarden just won the 2017 series championship and is the current points leader. Since the start of the 2017 season, Newgarden has eight wins, 20 top five finishes, 31 top 10’s and five poles. He’s not likely going anywhere.
Will Power was in Pagenaud’s shoes last year but he then won the Indy 500 and saved his job. In the same time frame, Power has won six races to go along with 18 top five finishes, 23 top 10’s and 11 poles.
In comparison, heading into this weekend, Pagenaud had two wins, none since the 2017 season finale, 17 top fives, 32 top 10’s and one pole. If anyone was going to go, some would think it had to be the driver riding a 21 race winless streak and just four top five finishes in his last 21 starts.
But, Pagenaud showed on Saturday in his drive that not only is he here to stay, he deserves to remain in the No. 22 Chevrolet. Pagenaud, showed that he’s driving just as good now as he was in his championship winning year of 2016.
That’s why he showed so much emotion.
“Well, yeah, we’ve had amazing seasons, if you think about 2016, the domination we had, 2017, which was as good quite frankly” said Pagenaud. “We actually scored more points that year. We had a really, really good season in ’17, and then last year was about understanding this new car. I think we saw that my teammates and myself all struggled a little bit to understand it as well. But that’s where Team Penske comes as a strong entity with my teammates, with also my crew and my engineers where we all gathered together to try to fix the issues in a very smart way, without being too smart. We went back to basics. We tried to figure it out, and the car is just getting better and better every race.
“Now slowly I’m definitely gaining the confidence that I’ve had, been able to achieve in the past, and right now I’m driving better than I did in ’16, so the results will come, but you’ve got to be patient.”
He’s right too. In 2017, Pagenaud almost scored more points that year than he did in his championship winning one the season prior. He scored 659 points in 2016 and dropped only 30 points in 2017 to 629. It really was the new car in 2018 which threw them for a loop.
But, it’s not like the Frenchman was bad last year. He had a top 10 in each of the final 10 races and 13 of the last 14. It was just he wasn’t finishing in the top five. Even this year, he now has four top 10 finishes in five tries.
If you go back to 2017, Pagenaud has scored a top 10 finish in 28 of his last 32 Indy Car starts. That’s really good.
You can tell this recent emotion that Pagenaud is showing is him finally being able to show everyone that he belongs.
Plus, you heard it from both Power and Dixon this weekend alone that it’s so hard to win in this series these days. Pagenaud became the fifth different winner in as many races this season. If you go back to last year, we’ve had six straight and eight winners in the last nine races.
That’s also why there’s so much emotion by race winners these days. Pagenaud is no exception.