SALINAS, Calif – The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was going exactly how it needed to for Simon Pagenaud. Josef Newgarden has his eyes on Alexander Rossi too much. When Rossi made a move, Newgarden was right there. He stalked him all day.
Rossi, started third and Newgarden fourth. When Rossi pit, Newgarden followed. Rossi, finished sixth, Newgarden eighth.
That left Dixon and Pagenaud fighting up front. With everyone up front, that eliminated Dixon from championship contention. It ws really up to Pagenaud to beat Newgarden for the title from midway on.
A brilliant plan from Team Penske.
With Dixon eliminated and Newgarden stalking Rossi, it would be between Newgarden vs. Pagenaud for the championship.
Pagenaud, got by them all after pitting for the first time on Lap 12. He got by Rossi in emphatic fashion following that opening pit sequence then got by Newgarden shortly thereafter.
He’d set his sights on the lead after. Unfortunately, he just didn’t have enough speed to get by Colton Herta or Scott Dixon and with his teammate Will Power having more speed, Pagenaud had to settle for fourth in his No. 22 Chevrolet in the finale.
That put him second in the final standings, one spot shy of earning his second Indy Car title in the last four years. Still remarkable for how his season started.
“Yes, it was a big day for us at Team Penske, that’s for sure,” Pagenaud said. “The mission for me was simple: It was to go to the front and then be aggressive.
“We had a pretty aggressive strategy on tires, but our car was actually really, really good on long runs. So it was very important to go to the front, and we did that after the first stint. We managed in the pit sequence to jump Rossi, which was the number one goal, be ahead of him so we could secure somewhat the championship for the team.
“But then I realized that I had the pace to go get Dixon and Herta, so I tried, and unfortunately the lock was Dixon. It was very, very difficult to get around him. I was out of Push-to-Pass, which I had to use in a pit sequence to jump people, and I spent too much money, basically, too quick (laughing).
“But overall I thought it was an amazing race. I thought we gave a great show for the fans, and it was a great crowd out here today, and there’s nothing to be disappointed about. I tried as hard as I could all weekend. You saw me drive with my heart. I won Indianapolis this year. There’s nothing to be disappointed about. We finished second. That’s the second time we’re second in the championship. We won the championship in ’16. I think the numbers talk for themselves.
“Do I want to win the championship? Of course. But I’m just equally happy for Josef and the whole team, to wrap up the Indy 500 and the championship in one year is just absolutely incredible.
“I had a blast. I had a blast today. It was disappointing not to get Dixon because I really thought I had a shot for the win and Herta. But it is what it is. I tried everything I had and it didn’t work out.”
Pagenaud, entered the Month of May at Indy looking like 2019 would be the last year in his ride with Team Penske. The way the wording came out when Pagenaud swept the Month of May at Indy as well as what Alexander Rossi had to say when he re-upped with Andretti this past summer confirms that.
Heading into May, it appeared that Penske wanted Rossi to replace Pagenaud for 2020 and beyond. Pagenaud, just wasn’t competing enough prior to that.
See, while he had 14 top 10 finishes in 2018, only four of those landed him in the top five. All the while, Josef Newgarden and Will Power combined to win six times including both races in the Month of May.
Out of his last 21 Indy Car races, Pagenaud had four finishes in the top five. He led just 31 laps in total last year as well.
But, Long Beach is where Pagenaud reminded us that he didn’t go anywhere. He qualified in the Fast Six and pointed to the quality of the field now and that it’s just so hard to get things completely right anymore. He noted, he didn’t go anywhere in the meantime and that we will hear from him soon.
How about the next race?
Pagenaud, chased Scott Dixon down in the final laps in the rain at Indy to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix. It was his first victory since the 2017 season finale. Then, he won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 the next weekend. A week later? He led 116 of the 200 laps in a thrilling Indianapolis 500 victory.
That netted him a contract extension.
A few races after though, he found out that the Indy 500 hangover is real. Pagenaud, finished sixth in Belle Isle 1 and was involved in a crash in Belle Isle 2. He was sixth again the next race in Texas and ninth in Road America. All of that Indy magic was vanished.
But, he got the rest that he needed and was able to get recharged. From then on, no one has scored as many points as Pagenaud. Over the last seven races, he’s finished in the top five in all of them but two. Even that one was a sixth place result in Mid-Ohio and seventh in Portland. He’s had 11 finishes of sixth or better in his last 14 races. In his prior 20 starts, he had six.
Pagenaud, closes 2019 out with nine straight top 10 finishes.