Pagenaud powers to Mid-Ohio win (VIDEO)

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Courtesy of an impressive, aggressive pass on his Team Penske teammate Will Power, Simon Pagenaud then powered to his fourth win of the Verizon IndyCar Series season – and a pivotal one in the championship chase.

Pagenaud got Power at the Carousel on Lap 66 – which became the net lead of the race once then-leader Conor Daly pitted on Lap 84 of the 90-lap event.

While a simple look at the results would have indicated a Team Penske 1-2 was a walkaway run, it wasn’t that, as the two yellow flags that flew jumbled the order on multiple occasions.

Pagenaud led from the pole through the opening 16 laps, but that’s when the race first turned on its head – contact occurred between Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon, with Dixon diving down Castroneves’ inside at the Keyhole and then damaging his left front suspension.

It took Dixon out of the race for all intents and purposes, but his crew did get the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet back out on track in the final 30 laps – albeit too late to gain any further positions.

That brought out the first full course caution of the race, and with the top 13 drivers having not pitted for their first stops, it jumbled the order.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Marco Andretti and Max Chilton cycled to the top three positions while Mikhail Aleshin moved into the net race lead in fourth place; the driver of the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was first among those who’d pitted, leading a group that included Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz, Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, Spencer Pigot, RC Enerson and Conor Daly.

Josef Newgarden, meanwhile, had had a tough slog of it with Will Power hitting his left rear wheel guard. While the contact occurred, no penalty was called for contact. Power later told NBC Sports he took the blame for his mistake and felt he’d “ruined” Newgarden’s race; it marks the second Team Penske driver in as many races — Juan Pablo Montoya did so in Toronto — who’s hit Newgarden’s left rear wheel guard.

Pagenaud, who’d led but then had to pit, fell to 12th – and tops among those who made their first stop under yellow.

Once the top three pitted, Aleshin led the majority of the middle stint – his first laps led this year and first overall since the Texas IndyCar race in 2014.

After the second round of stops started, Aleshin resumed the lead in Lap 45 – ahead of Power and Pagenaud, who’d done well to leapfrog back into contention after their first stops dropped them back down the order. It set up for an Aleshin vs. Penske fight for the win.

Except it didn’t happen.

When Jack Hawksworth crashed at Turn 1 in his No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda – he later confirmed he’d just dropped the wheels off driver’s right and then went into the wall – it brought out the second full course caution and immediately set up the field for one final stop to the finish, which could occur at Lap 62.

Aleshin had the lead and the prime position, but his race came unglued when he was sent out into the path of Newgarden, who’d since resumed but was entering his pit in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Aleshin was assessed two penalties – a pit safety infraction to restart at the back, and then a drive-through for hitting personnel.

The one driver able to gamble on strategy from there was Daly, who ran a typically brilliant Dale Coyne Racing strategy nearly to perfection in his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda.

After a tough weekend and after starting last, Daly had pitted on Lap 57 after going off course. He’d later say he’d adjusted the brake bias mid-race and that made his car so much better to drive.

Daly then led from Laps 63 to 84, and he could have potentially made the finish without a stop if there was a further full course yellow.

There wasn’t, so Coyne opted to unleash Daly for speed to make track position and get a result.

Of course the pivotal moment of the race occurred behind him, with Pagenaud having uncorked the move, showing some aggression, running on the inside of Power in the left-hand Turn 11 before moving back across, and inside again, at Turn 12 – powering past for the net lead even though it was behind Daly at the time.

Once Daly stopped for fuel, the win was Pagenaud’s ahead of Power’s, with Munoz in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda in third courtesy of executing his off-sequence strategy.

There was also contact a little bit further back, Sebastien Bourdais crashing into the back of Takuma Sato when battling over fourth. Bourdais made the mistake and admitted it, and wound up beached in “China Beach,” Turn 4.

That promoted Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe up to fourth and fifth and Daly, who’d emerged from the pits in eighth behind his roommate, Hinchcliffe, able to come home in sixth.

Pigot completed a career-best result in seventh, with Charlie Kimball, Sato and Newgarden in the top 10.

Aleshin ended an unrepresentative 17th and another driver whose result didn’t match his day was RC Enerson, who at one point set the fastest lap of the race but lost two laps on his second pit stop when he ran out of fuel and parked in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda pit box. He started 18th but 19 was his number of the weekend – his age, his car number, and his debut finish in his first IndyCar race.

Results are below:

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Results Sunday of the The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
3. (15) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 90, Running
4. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
5. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
6. (22) Conor Daly, Honda, 90, Running
7. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 90, Running
8. (5) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 90, Running
9. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
10. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
11. (8) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 90, Running
12. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 90, Running
13. (21) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running
14. (12) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 90, Running
15. (7) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
16. (13) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 90, Running
17. (10) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 90, Running
18. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
19. (18) RC Enerson, Honda, 89, Running
20. (16) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 86, Off Course
21. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 60, Contact
22. (11) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 27, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 110.853 mph
Time of Race: 01:49:59.6875
Margin of victory: 4.1620 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 10 laps
Lead changes: 7 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Pagenaud 1 – 16
Montoya 17 – 25
Aleshin 26 – 40
Pagenaud 41
Power 42 – 44
Aleshin 45 – 62
Daly 63 – 84
Pagenaud 85 – 90

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Pagenaud 484, Power 426, Castroneves 373, Newgarden 364, Dixon 357, Kanaan 357, Hinchcliffe 329, Munoz 328, Rahal 324, Kimball 318.

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500