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Pagenaud dominates, but Daly leads halfway at St. Pete

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Simon Pagenaud has dominated the opening half of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, leading 47 of the first 55 laps, however was not up front at the halfway mark.

That honor went to Conor Daly, who started 20thh and is in position to deliver a typically brilliant Dale Coyne Racing strategic masterstroke in his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda if he can get enough yellow laps to get back in the fuel window.

To start, Pagenaud inherited the pole position after Will Power’s pre-race illness sidelined him from the race, and fill-in driver Oriol Servia was moved to 22nd and the rear of the field.

Once up front in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet, Pagenaud pulled away and led the opening 47 laps.

But a caution on Lap 46 occurred when Marco Andretti spun at Turn 1 trying to overtake Luca Filippi; Filippi had also contacted Andretti’s teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay earlier in the race but both continued.

Daly, who pitted for new tires and a front wing on Lap 41, was five laps outside the window to make it all the way based on projections. But with the yellow extended through Lap 57 when Andretti stopped again in Turn 14, it might help the young American.

Tony Kanaan is second, also off sequence, with Pagenaud, 2015 St. Petersburg winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon in the top five.

Oriol Servia runs 12th in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet after filling in for Will Power, who was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.