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
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
Pagenaud 1 – 16
Montoya 17 – 25
Aleshin 26 – 40
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.