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Pagenaud moves into IndyCar points lead after Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – On the post-joining Team Penske to-do checklist, I imagine Simon Pagenaud put “win first race for Penske” front and center.

Even though he hasn’t done that yet, moving into the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead isn’t a bad item to check off.

The 31-year-old Frenchman, in his fifth full season since returning to IndyCar full-time in 2012 (Pagenaud also raced Champ Car in 2007 and a partial IndyCar slate in 2011), now has the series points lead for the first time in his career after finishing second in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Pagenaud swapped his green, black and white No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet for an orange-and-white DeVilbiss-backed entry, and rolled out a similarly bright orange firesuit to go along with it this weekend. He also had his parents in town from France.

But even though the livery was the IndyCar equivalent of a “Dreamsicle,” Pagenaud can go to sleep at night knowing the points lead isn’t a dream.

He’s the only driver in the first two IndyCar races to have finished on the podium twice; Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon have a win apiece, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power the two third-place finishers.

For reference, Pagenaud only had two podiums all of 2015 – third places in Detroit race one and Mid-Ohio – so he’s already equaled that with better results this year, as it’s obvious the No. 22 Team Penske team is gelling better.

Pagenaud leads Dixon, a traditionally slow starter, by four points (83-79) with St. Petersburg winner Montoya third at 74 points.

“That’s great. It’s according to plan,” Pagenaud said in the post-race press conference. “Everything that didn’t go well last year is going well now, so again, today is definitely — I had a lot of help from my guys, but I also had a great race car thanks to the team, and yeah, so you know, we’ve just got to keep doing exactly that. It’s great to see Will back and great to see he’s also healthy, and to be able to put it all together is cool.”

Beyond the top three, here’s other notes after Phoenix from a points standpoint:

  • Team Penske has three of the top six in points with Helio Castroneves in sixth. After missing St. Petersburg, Power leapt to 12th with 36 points, 47 back of Pagenaud, with his third place finish.
  • Hunter-Reay (56, fourth), Graham Rahal (44, seventh), Mikhail Aleshin and Takuma Sato (43, tied eighth) are the four Honda drivers in the top-10.
  • Rookies: Max Chilton’s seventh place finish moved him to 10th and the rookie lead with 39 points. Alexander Rossi is 14th on 34 and Conor Daly is 18th on 32.
  • Fourth-placed Hunter-Reay is 27 points behind Pagenaud. Just 26 points then cover from Hunter-Reay down to Jack Hawksworth in 19th.

Via INDYCAR, here are the points, below, after Phoenix:

PHXpoints

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).