The resumption of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway offered Simon Pagenaud a challenge: recover from his first and thus far only mistake of the year on Monday in Pocono and put forth a championship-caliber performance, or incur a second straight dud result that could put pause to those hopes.
But despite the “weird” nature of the day that faced him going into it, Pagenaud delivered a key drive aided by a good strategic call from his No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Team Penske Chevrolet team to secure a potentially pivotal fourth place finish for the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
After a spate of late-race accidents, Pagenaud was one of two drivers along with Tony Kanaan who opted to pit for fresh Firestone tires.
The gamble paid dividends because inevitably, those cars with the fresher tires would move towards the front in the later stages.
Pagenaud, who’s certainly been better on ovals this season in his second year with Team Penske but hasn’t yet had that incredible “tip of your tongue” memory oval drive, had to balance fighting for the win with three hungry drivers who hadn’t yet won this year – Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and eventual winner Graham Rahal.
But he did just that, fighting hard yet clean in an intense four-way battle on a night he needed a big result to restart his title momentum, in a race that was looming large on the calendar.
Yeah, he ended fourth – but with Will Power in eighth, he gained eight points to stretch his lead to 28 points – and that provides the latest pendulum swing between the two in a year full of them.
“My spotter said, ‘four-wide’, and I’m like uh, oh, that’s no good,” Pagenaud said post-race. “And then Rahal touched me and I touched Hinchcliffe, so I was actually loose going into the corner and had to back out of it.
“It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to get that first oval win. But, I think no matter what, that was a great performance. The HP car was amazing all night. Thanks to Chevy, obviously; this aero kit is really amazing. It really shows what the IndyCars can do. I think tonight we had a great show. Did you guys enjoy it? I did. I didn’t have any breath left, you know?
“Wow. That was exciting! I don’t think I have any breath left. I thought we were going to get it, but when it went four wide I got touched and pushed me into (James Hinchcliffe) and I had to back out of it or there was going to be a big wreck. The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy just got better and better all night. I really thought it was going to come together right at the end when we got back on the lead lap. We were able to come in for tires. Everything nearly came together.”