St. Pete podium finishers thrilled for various reasons

Photo: IndyCar

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay all had reasons to be happy following Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

For Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, there was relief his car was better than what it showed in the morning warmup – when he ended in the tire barriers at Turn 7 to end the session.

“The car had a lot of speed today. It’s funny, because if you look at this morning in warmup, we’re like P11 or 14 or something. I was like, Wow, doesn’t feel that bad,” he said in the post-race press conference.

“It’s hard when the warmup is so early because the track conditions are very different to what you’re going to race, so you have to keep that in mind. I thought we did a fairly good job with that. We knew exactly where we needed to change. I was happy with the car, to be honest.”

Montoya rallied despite a steering issue, still proving he can manhandle a car, to win his second straight St. Petersburg race and end a run of five different winners in the last five years.

“We started the race really good. Halfway through the race, the steering dropped to the left. Every time I braked, went straight. Something broke there, but that’s okay,” he explained.

“I mean, affected the car a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad until I passed (Jack) Hawksworth. When I passed Hawksworth, it got really bad. Something let go completely. Before, there was a little bit of play, but not bad.

“I backed off. I had a five-second lead, so just take it easy and bring it to the end.”

He brought it to the end 2.3306 seconds ahead of Simon Pagenaud, who scored a Penske-best second place finish in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and led a race-high 48 laps.

But when Montoya got Pagenaud for second behind then-leader Conor Daly on Lap 57, just before the Turn 4 traffic jam, it was the net pass for the lead.

“I mean, Montoya is an old dog,” Pagenaud said. “He found a little good trick on me. Fortunately I had a lot of wheel spin compared to last year. I decided to be aggressive on the restarts. Maybe I was too close to T.K. I think it took quite a bit of aerodynamics out of my car. Had a lot of wheel spin, didn’t go forward. Great job on him to get me.

“It’s a big advantage to be up front. Once you’re up front, with the turbulence behind, it’s very difficult, hard to keep the tires in good shape. If there was going to be another restart, it would have been difficult to get it back.”

Since passing was difficult, it made Ryan Hunter-Reay’s dynamic move for third in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport all the better.

He got Helio Castroneves for third on Lap 108 of 110 in Turn 4, denying Team Penske a podium sweep.

“We got everything out of it today. There was nothing left in the car. Had some good battles out there today,” Hunter-Reay said. “Helio really dive-bombed me there at one point and hit (Scott) Dixon, almost turned him around. It was really nice to get by him at the end for the podium. That was a small, tiny little victory for us.

“Just to be on the podium with the Penske boys today is a big accomplishment because they’ve been the class of the field here for many years.”

Penske’s absent driver – Will Power – was the biggest story of the day prior to the race though. Ruled out, diagnosed with a mild concussion, Power was sidelined and Oriol Servia made his usual available-at-super-short-notice best efforts to replace him.

Servia ended 18th after a fraught race in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, and was among those caught up in the Turn 4 fracas.

Hunter-Reay – the non-Penske podium driver – made sure to note that the field is thinking of Power, who was sidelined despite winning the pole on Saturday.

“Thoughts are with Will. He must be in a pretty bad place not to be in the racecar for a race,” he said. “We’re thinking about him. That’s definitely not the way you want to see it happen.”

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


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.