Curiosity, experimentation lead to Simon Pagenaud’s first podium with Penske

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Simon Pagenaud had just been told to come into the pits by his crew when the Frenchman got lucky.

The skies opened up.

Pagenaud was running his No. 22 PPG Chevrolet in third in Dual in Detroit race one, behind Marco Andretti and leader Carlos Munoz, when rain fell on the Raceway on Belle Isle for the second time Sunday.

But this time there was lightning.

Pagenaud convinced his crew that he should stay out and on Lap 46, IndyCar threw the caution flag and eventually the red. Once the race was called, Pagenaud had his first podium finish since joining Team Penske for the 2015 season.

“I don’t care, I’m just going to take it,” Pagenaud told ABC. “It’s my first podium with Team Penske. I’m over the moon right now. We haven’t had much luck this year.”

The podium’s significance carries more weight after Pagenaud’s result in last week’s Indianapolis 500. He had led 35 laps and was in the top five when his car suffered a malfunction around Lap 176 and dropped him like a rock through the field.

He would recover to finish 10th. Now he becomes the final Penske driver to score a podium finish in 2015.

It just took some curiosity and experimentation on a rain-soaked track.

“I really love these conditions and I wanted to stay longer on track as the rain was coming down,” Pagenaud said. “With these conditions, you can gain two seconds per lap sometimes compared to someone else being on rain tires.”

Pagenaud had started fifth on the grid, which began with the field having to navigate a 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street course that was fresh from an earlier dumping of rain.

“I was trying to find lines and experimenting. When it gets wet like this, you want to cross the dry line as much as possible and put the power down on a very different line,” Pagenaud said.

“So sometimes on the inside of a corner that’s where the grip can be and that’s where sometimes you have to run. In the rain, you have to be curious, you have to experience things and yeah, it was different in every corner.”

Eventually, the track dried and teams were able to rely on normal tires instead of those specifically designed for rain. But everyone knew it was a matter of when, not if, the rain would return. Pagenaud’s could do nothing but look at the radar on their pit box.

With the danger of rain, Munoz took a few chances, which included edging passed Pagenaud on his inside, which caused him to narrowly miss hitting the wall on his outside as Munoz completed the pass.

“I think it was ok. It was just difficult to get (cold tires going) and Carlos was going for it and there wasn’t much room for the two of us there,” Pagenaud said. “I just gave up the position thinking it was going to rain and that everything was going to happen later. It was a smart race on my side today.”

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit

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Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.