Defending Barber winner Pagenaud learns to speak ‘Southern’ (VIDEO)

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There’s a weird symmetry between Simon Pagenaud, who hails from Montmorillon, France and now lives in Charlotte, and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion for Team Penske, Pagenaud made his return to the Verizon IndyCar Series after a four-year absence in a one-off, injury fill-in drive for Ana Beatriz at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2011. That was the first step towards laying the groundwork for a full-time return that followed in 2012 with Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.

In 2013, Pagenaud and then-teammate Tristan Vautier made a voyage to the Bass Pro Shops right next to the track in Birmingham. This went as you’d expect for the pair of Frenchmen, transplanted into the world of wild animals and game who entered while speaking French and then embracing the store.

Pagenaud’s decisive, aggressive move for the lead on Graham Rahal, his sparring partner the year they competed for the 2006 Atlantic Championship, netted him his second straight victory and helped to propel him from possible to likely championship favorite.

And now heading into this year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (April 23, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Pagenaud and Barber have their latest connection – where Pagenaud learns to speak “Southern” English from an app showcased by his new teammate and Hendersonville, Tenn. native Josef Newgarden.

You can see the video, filmed during IndyCar’s recent open test at Barber last month, above via This is Alabama and aired during Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN.

Pagenaud and Birmingham are the odd couple that seem to keep on giving to IndyCar. He’ll look for an encore of his victory here later this month, but first are in Long Beach this weekend.

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.