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Pagenaud diffuses Newgarden tension heading to Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion in Simon Pagenaud has, it seems, put last week’s outburst in the heat of the moment at Gateway Motorsports Park behind him after losing the win to Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.

Pagenaud was livid after Newgarden’s forceful pass for the lead, and ultimately the win, that produced a 25-point swing in the championship. Newgarden went from 18 points up on Pagenaud when he was trailing him on track to 43 up on Pagenaud with the pass, and with Scott Dixon having also passed Pagenaud for second.

The two Penske teammates have talked it out and Pagenaud, during a media lunch on Thursday, admitted emotions got the better of him at Gateway.

“I was taken by the heat of the moment. I lost the race. As a racer, you hate losing races. In the heat of the moment, it felt like I explained then. But stepping back from it, I was disappointed in my reaction,” Pagenaud admitted Thursday.

Pagenaud, who said at the time he had lost both trust and respect for Newgarden, backtracked a bit today and expressed how thankful he is to have the opportunity to race so freely with his teammates.

Without saying as much, it seems any behind-the-scenes work done at Team Penske this week has sought to diffuse the tension before it could escalate further.

“Quite frankly, the situation we’re in is amazing,” he said. “We get to fight against teammates. We get to fight so hard without team orders. Everybody should be happy with the situation; the media, the fans, the drivers.

“It’s unfortunate that my French blood came out a little bit!” he laughed. “I have no problem with it whatsoever. The team is a fantastic team.

“Josef and I will race for Penske for a long time, and we need to work together. We had a good chat. We’ll go forward. He’s doing his job, and I’m doing mine. So of course one of us isn’t going to be happy because only one can win. We’re on good terms, and going to work together.”

Pagenaud, whose season as a whole has been high on consistency but reduced in terms of poles and wins – after having seven and five last year he only has one of each this year – reflected a bit on the lost opportunities, where say fourth place finishes occurred when a second or third place was possible, or like at Gateway, when he lost the win and finished third.

“There’s many races we fought for the win but didn’t get it done. I think about Texas, Toronto, Gateway, a lot of others… Pocono even. Most of them are ovals as well, I’d like to point out!” he said.

“But It’s been a different year. Sometimes luck is on your side. This year has been challenging. That doesn’t mean we haven’t done a good job. What does it take to win more races? Get more aggressive, and I have to do it starting now.”

One of the challenges Pagenaud and the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet team has found this year is that a lot of their successful setups have not necessarily translated this year.

Although the aero kits have been frozen and Chevrolet has made gains on the power side, changes in Firestone’s tire at a number of tracks have left the No. 1 team scrambling a bit. This was a track where Pagenaud struggled, relatively speaking, last year as he only started and finished seventh.

“Definitely the difference in the tires has been interesting,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve got caught out. It’s difficult when you won with the car setup the year before, and then you review it and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain that. If you win with one car, can you accept changing it?

“Now I’d say since Toronto we’re back to our level of competitiveness and performance. It needs to be better.”

Pagenaud is also thankful that the next race on the schedule comes a week later in Watkins Glen, rather than having another week to dwell on Gateway.

“I’ve had the time to reflect on the last week. I’d have no problem having another week off; but racing now is good for us and good for the fans.”

Pagenaud livid after Newgarden’s pass for Gateway win (VIDEO)

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MADISON, Ill. – It takes a lot to make the usually congenial Simon Pagenaud definitively angry, but the driver of the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet was that after losing out on the win in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.

The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion lost not just the win but a great chance to defend his title after teammate Josef Newgarden’s ambitious, but determined pass for the lead on Lap 218 of the 248-lap race in his No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet.

Pagenaud had moved into the lead following a pit stop sequence, where his crew got his No. 1 car ahead of Newgarden’s No. 2 car.

Alas, Pagenaud left a lane open to the inside, which was tempting enough for Newgarden to see the gap and go for it. The two made slight contact and Newgarden made it past into Turn 1, and as Pagenaud slid up the road, he lost enough momentum to where Scott Dixon came through for second place.

Provided the order would have stayed Pagenaud first and Newgarden second, Newgarden’s lead over Pagenaud would have been 18 points – 537 to 519 – if Pagenaud had held onto his would-have-been second win of the year.

Instead, the pass for the lead and Dixon’s pass for second swung Newgarden’s total to 547 and dropped Pagenaud to 504. Newgarden had 26 points advantage on Pagenaud coming into this race and coming out of it, he has 43 with just two races to go.

Pagenaud expanded on his TV comments to NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis – “I don’t have anything nice to say, so I’m not going to say it” – in the post-race press conference.

“I think if it wasn’t me, he would be in the fence with somebody else. That’s what I’ve got to say,” Pagenaud said.

Pagenaud said he lost respect and trust for Newgarden in the aftermath of the pass.

“Absolutely. And respect, too. He doesn’t have respect for me,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve never seen Scott do that to his teammates in his career, whole career. I respect the hell out of this guy here.”

He did say he wasn’t surprised the move wasn’t reviewed by INDYCAR Race Control because it wasn’t an outright incident, although there was minor contact.

“No, because there’s no crash. It’s more, how do you call it, a driver rule. It’s how much you respect each other,” he explained.

“When you think the gap is open enough to risk it on an oval. I’m not talking road course. I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass. But we’re not on a road course. There we are going 40, 50 miles an hour. Here we’re doing 190 there. It’s completely different story.”

Newgarden, who’s now delivered two statement passes of his teammates for the lead in his last two wins at Mid-Ohio (Will Power) and Gateway (Pagenaud), seemed if not oblivious to the controversy, content in that it was the natural racing move to go for a gap – even if force down the inside was required.

“I mean, Simon gave me a lane to work with,” Newgarden said. “I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him. One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out.

“I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately worked out well for us on the 2 car side. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”

Asked if the respect for Pagenaud was there, Newgarden said it was in spades, and that he is thankful to his new boss Roger Penske for letting them race as fiercely as they have.

“I’ll approach him the same. He knows we’re racing. He knows we’re going to race in the future,” he said. “We’re going to race for many years. This isn’t the first time we’ll battle, I’m sure. Hopefully he knows next time it’s getting a little tight in the corner, give me a little more room.

“But I think he’s one of the world class drivers that you race against. That’s what made that work. I can trust him to not lose the racecar and hold his own into the corner. That’s really what made the move work. Any other guy, he might not have had the ability to make it work. Simon has that and even more. So he’s one of the best drivers in the world to go head-to-head with.”

And Newgarden also said the way Pagenaud drove into Turn 1 indicated he thought he knew he was there.

“If anything, I was surprised he left me a lane. If you leave me a lane, I’m going to take it,” Newgarden said.

“Especially in the situation where we were leading most of the laps, we were in position to win the race, we lose out on a pit stop exchange. He’s got to know I’m going to try to get back by him. That’s not the way we want to lose the race.

“Yes, for sure. I’m sure he knew I was coming.”

Newgarden powers past Pagenaud for decisive Gateway win (VIDEO)

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MADISON, Ill. – Josef Newgarden saw an opportunity when Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud left the door open in Turn 1 at the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.

He seized it with both hands in a forceful, authoritative move for the lead, and ultimately the win in the third to last race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Newgarden took the lead after contact with Pagenaud into Turn 1 on Lap 218 of the 248-lap race, the move not being reviewed by INDYCAR Race Control, and then held on the remaining 30 laps to win his fourth race of the season.

Pagenaud fell to third behind Scott Dixon, who rallied all race despite an aero deficit for Honda, with Helio Castroneves fourth and Conor Daly posting by far his most impressive drive of the year in fifth.

The late pass for the lead spiced up an otherwise difficult to handle return to the series for Gateway. Despite a near capacity crowd in the front straight grandstands – it’d be fair to estimate a crowd north of 30,000 – the race was delayed after a fireworks display and a one-lap three-wide row salute, then saw two bizarre incidents out of the gate.

Tony Kanaan spun in Turn 2 and needed to pit before the green flag, although race laps started counting for a four-lap yellow period before a two-wide start.

Then shortly thereafter, polesitter Will Power spun in Turn 2 on the low line, and Takuma Sato and Ed Carpenter spun behind them. Carpenter careened back up the road over top of Power’s car in another scary looking incident. It wasn’t until Lap 18 that the race properly got going.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Newgarden’s fourth win of the year, with 170 laps led, helped increase his points lead to 31 over Dixon with two races to go. … In second, Dixon scored his first top-five finish since winning at Road America and did an excellent job of damage limitations. … Alexander Rossi’s strong run of late continued with sixth. … Daly’s run was a needed top-five, his first of the year and first for the A.J. Foyt Enterprises team all season, and teammate Carlos Munoz was ninth. … Charlie Kimball, Daly’s in-race sparring partner, finished seventh and James Hinchcliffe, his wedding minister, was eighth. It marked both drivers best oval results this season. … Sebastien Bourdais returned to action with a solid top-10 and Sebastian Saavedra rounded off the first and only two Sebastian/en race of the IndyCar season with a clean drive to 11th.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ed Carpenter Racing. Two wrecked cars for Carpenter and JR Hildebrand left the team likely in need of its primary sponsor, Fuzzy’s Vodka, after a disappointing and expensive evening. … A pit safety infraction cost Graham Rahal a potential top-five finish and fell to 12th. … Other than Rossi, Andretti Autosport had a tough day with Marco Andretti 14th, Ryan Hunter-Reay 15th after a spin, and Sato out after the early Turn 2 crash. … Kanaan was parked by the team after going several laps down. He told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis “talk to Chip” about the decision and Ganassi declined comment, also confirmed by a team spokesperson. It marks the second time a Ganassi IndyCar has been retired owing to a team decision in as many weeks, the same having occurred to Max Chilton last week in Pocono. … Speaking of Chilton, a spin off Turn 4 ended his race and created a rare second straight DNF for the likable Englishman who’s usually a regular finisher.

NOTABLE: Team Penske did in fact win its fifth straight race, extending its streak for its longest win streak since 1994 (seven straight wins). … Newgarden’s four wins this year exceed his career total prior, three wins between 2015 and 2016. … Pagenaud’s year of metronomic consistency that in any other year would win him a title continued, as he banked his 12th top-five finish in 15 races and remained the only driver to complete every lap of the year.

QUOTABLE: Pagenaud to NBCSN after the race, and “the move:” “The move, you know, I don’t know what to say. I don’t have anything nice to say, so I’m not going to say it.”

RESULTS

MADISON, Illinois – Results Saturday of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running
2. (7) Scott Dixon, Honda, 248, Running
3. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 248, Running
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 248, Running
5. (11) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 248, Running
6. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 248, Running
7. (18) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 248, Running
8. (10) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 248, Running
9. (8) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 248, Running
10. (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 248, Running
11. (21) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 248, Running
12. (13) Graham Rahal, Honda, 248, Running
13. (12) Ed Jones, Honda, 248, Running
14. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 248, Running
15. (14) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 205, Contact
16. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 168, Mechanical
17. (16) Max Chilton, Honda, 164, Contact
18. (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 100, Contact
19. (6) Takuma Sato, Honda, 6, Contact
20. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 5, Contact
21. (5) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 5, Contact

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed: 139.465 mph
Time of Race: 2:13:22.0358
Margin of victory: 0.6850 of a second
Cautions: 5 for 43 laps
Lead changes: 11 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Power 1-5
Newgarden 6-60
Bourdais 61-65
Chilton 66
Newgarden 67-193
Pagenaud 104
Castroneves 105-156
Newgarden 157-158
Chilton 159-160
Newgarden 161-205
Pagenaud 206-217
Newgarden 218-248

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 547, Dixon 516, Castroneves 505, Pagenaud 504, Power 464, Rahal 436, Rossi 422, Sato 410, Kanaan 365, Hinchcliffe 351.

WATCH LIVE: Bommarito Automotive Group 500, 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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MADISON, Ill. – The Verizon IndyCar Series’ final oval race of the season tonight marks the series’ return to a revitalized Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis in Madison, Ill., for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.

You can watch the 248-lap, 310-mile race from Gateway live on NBCSN (stream link here) from 9 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. CT and local time. It’s the series’ first race in Gateway since 2003.

The broadcast of Friday night’s qualifying show starts at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, as a lead-in to live race coverage.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Gateway along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar race coverage will run from 9 p.m. through midnight ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Gateway:

  • Will the Team Penske weekend domination continue?
  • Can any of the Hondas spring a surprise?
  • Who will seize the momentum in the championship battle?
  • How will this race, race? Will there be a lot of passing?

Newgarden tops Gateway night practice

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MADISON, Ill. – The Team Penske domination of today’s sessions for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline continued with Josef Newgarden pacing the final one-hour practice on Friday night.

The driver of the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet lapped the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park at 24.446 seconds, 184.079 mph.

Unlike the other two sessions, this one wasn’t a Team Penske 1-4 sweep, but close. Will Power, the polesitter, was third with Helio Castroneves fourth. Simon Pagenaud was 13th.

Ed Carpenter, in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, is best on the grid among those not driving for Team Penske in fifth and was second in this session.

Top Honda was Alexander Rossi in fifth place.

There was a lot of passing this session, more than normal, which bodes well for Saturday’s race – which needs to be an important showcase for the series upon its return to the greater St. Louis metro area oval for the first time in 14 years, since 2003.

Live coverage for this race begins at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN; a re-air of tonight’s qualifying session, which aired live on the NBC Sports App, will occur at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Times for this session, interrupted only by two minor yellow flags (debris and a track inspection), are below.