Simon Pagenaud leads 1-2 finish for Schmidt team in Houston Race 2 (VIDEO)

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Simon Pagenaud may have had the fastest car throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader weekend in Houston, but brake problems on his car meant that he didn’t get to show it in Saturday’s Race 1.

In today’s Race 2, he had no such problems and went on to lead Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports to a 1-2 finish at NRG Park. Pagenaud’s second win of the season also bolsters his title hopes; while he stayed fourth in the standings, he moved to within 59 points of leader Will Power.

Climbing out of his No. 77 Oculus Transport Honda, Pagenaud apologized for not being exuberant over his success due to the hot and humid conditions this afternoon in Houston. But he was still very much pleased.

“The car was just beautiful,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “I don’t know if you saw the on-board but it was awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grip. What else [more] could you expect from a driver?

“That’s why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. Thanks to the group at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. We regrouped really well after Detroit and they came up with this package. Beautiful.”

When asked if today was the most challenging race he’s done, Pagenaud answered in the affirmative.

“Not in terms of steering effort, but exhaustion from heat,” he said. “There was no air. As you could see under yellows, I was opening the visor but the safety car was going so slow, so I wasn’t getting any air in the helmet. Even the safety car was worse than running fast. But, yeah – good day though!”

Additionally, two rookies were able to hit the Houston podium for the second day in a row. SPHM’s own rookie, Mikhail Aleshin, survived a mid-race incident with Graham Rahal to finish second, while Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth finished third after fighting off veterans such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball.

Aleshin thought his day was over after he ran into the back of Rahal on Lap 29 following the American’s pit stop.

“At that moment, I thought that was it,” said the Russian, who made his last stop on Lap 51 of 90. “But we had a good strategy and I had the same pace as the leaders, so I could catch up and overtake some of them – and with the strategy, we were up there.

“And then – can you imagine? – in the end, I had a flat tire. I had a flat tire on my car in the last few laps, so I was really lucky to finish actually. Really lucky. The team did an amazing job. I don’t have any English words to thank the team for that, because they did an amazing job.”

Hawksworth has shown promising flashes of speed up to today, and he definitely deserves his podium following his battle with the likes of Montoya and Kimball.

But he also benefited from Power suffering a rear suspension failure in the final few laps, which forced him to abandon a possible podium of his own. The Australian wound up finishing 11th.

However, his closest title pursuer, Helio Castroneves, crashed today on Lap 49. That means Power’s lead over the Brazilian has returned to 39 points – the same margin he had going into the weekend.

Castroneves was a threat to win today from the pole position, but lost the lead to Pagenaud following a Lap 48 restart. One lap later, contact with Sebastien Bourdais sent into the outside retaining wall at Turn 6.

Bourdais sustained a damaged front wing in the incident but battled through it to finish fifth behind Kimball in fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth today, followed by Montoya in seventh, Ryan Briscoe in eighth, Marco Andretti in ninth, and Tony Kanaan in 10th.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON
Race 2 at NRG Park – Final Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
2. (2) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
3. (23) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 90, Running
4. (19) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
5. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 90, Running
6. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
7. (14) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
8. (15) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
9. (16) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
10. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
11. (18) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
12. (6) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 89, Running
13. (17) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy, 89, Running
14. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, 89, Running
15. (12) Luca Filippi, Rahal-Honda, 88, Running
16. (4) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 87, Running
17. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 84, Running
18. (11) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 78, Running
19. (10) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 74, Contact
20. (22) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 61, Mechanical
21. (1) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 48, Contact
22. (9) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 40, Contact
23. (13) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 2, Off Course

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 78.981 mph
Time of Race: One hour, 51 minutes, 43.0625 seconds
Margin of victory: 7.2622 seconds
Cautions: 5 for 21 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1 – 30
Pagenaud 31
Castroneves 32 -48
Pagenaud 49 – 90

Point Standings: Power 405, Castroneves 366, Hunter-Reay 364, Pagenaud 346, Montoya 289, Andretti 281, Munoz 270, Bourdais 242, Dixon 237, Hinchcliffe 229.

Josef Newgarden dominates from pole to win KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

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There’s a reason why Josef Newgarden calls Road America his favorite racetrack – and he showed why Sunday, dominating to victory in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.

Newgarden led all but two laps from the pole and was in a class of his own throughout the 55-lap caution-free race on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course in central Wisconsin, defeating runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay by 3.3759 seconds.

“(I wanted this one) really bad,” Newgarden told NBCSN in victory lane. “I wanted to win here since last year. This car has been a rocket all weekend. It wasn’t easy. Ryan was very quick and I knew Dixon was right behind him, so we were working for it the entire race.

“I kind of knew what I had to do, but it was a lot of work. Ryan was really pushing me. It’s good to get a win. It doesn’t matter what car, as long as it’s Team Penske.”

It was Newgarden’s series-leading third win of the season in the first 10 races (also won at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama), pushing him past Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Will Power and Scott Dixon, who both have two wins in the 2018 campaign.

“I was hoping to make it more interesting for the fans here at Road American and on TV,” Hunter-Reay said. “The last two stints, when he put on used red and I had blacks, he was really hooked up. … I was pushing 110 percent, that’s for sure.

“Unfortunately, I just couldn’t catch up to Josef. I was able to close up the gap a little bit here and there, but not like I was early in the race. He found his own way for sure. Definitely, the clean air out front helps, but hats off to him: he had a great race and deserves the win.”

Dixon finished third, followed by Takuma Sato, Robert Wickens, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Spencer Pigot (his best finish of the season), Ed Jones and James Hinchcliffe.

Dixon (393 points) maintains the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead, Hunter-Reay (348) moved up two spots to second place, Alexander Rossi (tied with Hunter-Reay for second at 348) dropped one spot to third, Newgarden (343) climbed one spot to fourth and Will Power (328) dropped two spots to fifth in the standings.

“It’s so tight … so tough,” Dixon said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series, right now, the competition is through the roof. To get a podium these days is tough enough, yet to get a win. But we’ll keep pushing and see what we get.”

There was action right from the opening lap, including misfortune for Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who suffered engine issues that sent him to the pits after the opening lap.

After trying to work on his car in the pits, Power’s team pushed it back to the paddock to attempt further repairs, but those efforts failed and the car was retired.

Power was third in the IndyCar points standings coming into the race, 36 points behind series leader Scott Dixon. He finished last (23rd) in Sunday’s race and will likely drop to fifth in the standings.

“They replaced the exhaust, and it just blew straight back out,” Power told NBCSN’s Marty Snider. “So, there’s obviously something going on in there that’s gone wrong.

“I feel bad for all the guys. It’s just one of those things, you know – you’ll get that every now and then at some point. No good, but we’ll move on to the next one.”

Also, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi had an issue with what appeared to be brakes- or suspension-related that resulted in a lengthy pit stop after 38 laps. Rossi finished 16th in the 23-car field.

“Hugely disappointing,” Rossi told NBCSN. “It was good enough for fourth … but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

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