MADISON, Ill. – It takes a lot to make the usually congenial Simon Pagenaud definitively angry, but the driver of the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet was that after losing out on the win in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.
The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion lost not just the win but a great chance to defend his title after teammate Josef Newgarden’s ambitious, but determined pass for the lead on Lap 218 of the 248-lap race in his No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet.
Pagenaud had moved into the lead following a pit stop sequence, where his crew got his No. 1 car ahead of Newgarden’s No. 2 car.
Alas, Pagenaud left a lane open to the inside, which was tempting enough for Newgarden to see the gap and go for it. The two made slight contact and Newgarden made it past into Turn 1, and as Pagenaud slid up the road, he lost enough momentum to where Scott Dixon came through for second place.
Provided the order would have stayed Pagenaud first and Newgarden second, Newgarden’s lead over Pagenaud would have been 18 points – 537 to 519 – if Pagenaud had held onto his would-have-been second win of the year.
Instead, the pass for the lead and Dixon’s pass for second swung Newgarden’s total to 547 and dropped Pagenaud to 504. Newgarden had 26 points advantage on Pagenaud coming into this race and coming out of it, he has 43 with just two races to go.
Pagenaud expanded on his TV comments to NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis – “I don’t have anything nice to say, so I’m not going to say it” – in the post-race press conference.
“I think if it wasn’t me, he would be in the fence with somebody else. That’s what I’ve got to say,” Pagenaud said.
Pagenaud said he lost respect and trust for Newgarden in the aftermath of the pass.
“Absolutely. And respect, too. He doesn’t have respect for me,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve never seen Scott do that to his teammates in his career, whole career. I respect the hell out of this guy here.”
He did say he wasn’t surprised the move wasn’t reviewed by INDYCAR Race Control because it wasn’t an outright incident, although there was minor contact.
“No, because there’s no crash. It’s more, how do you call it, a driver rule. It’s how much you respect each other,” he explained.
“When you think the gap is open enough to risk it on an oval. I’m not talking road course. I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass. But we’re not on a road course. There we are going 40, 50 miles an hour. Here we’re doing 190 there. It’s completely different story.”
Newgarden, who’s now delivered two statement passes of his teammates for the lead in his last two wins at Mid-Ohio (Will Power) and Gateway (Pagenaud), seemed if not oblivious to the controversy, content in that it was the natural racing move to go for a gap – even if force down the inside was required.
“I mean, Simon gave me a lane to work with,” Newgarden said. “I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him. One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out.
“I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately worked out well for us on the 2 car side. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”
Asked if the respect for Pagenaud was there, Newgarden said it was in spades, and that he is thankful to his new boss Roger Penske for letting them race as fiercely as they have.
“I’ll approach him the same. He knows we’re racing. He knows we’re going to race in the future,” he said. “We’re going to race for many years. This isn’t the first time we’ll battle, I’m sure. Hopefully he knows next time it’s getting a little tight in the corner, give me a little more room.
“But I think he’s one of the world class drivers that you race against. That’s what made that work. I can trust him to not lose the racecar and hold his own into the corner. That’s really what made the move work. Any other guy, he might not have had the ability to make it work. Simon has that and even more. So he’s one of the best drivers in the world to go head-to-head with.”
And Newgarden also said the way Pagenaud drove into Turn 1 indicated he thought he knew he was there.
“If anything, I was surprised he left me a lane. If you leave me a lane, I’m going to take it,” Newgarden said.
“Especially in the situation where we were leading most of the laps, we were in position to win the race, we lose out on a pit stop exchange. He’s got to know I’m going to try to get back by him. That’s not the way we want to lose the race.
“Yes, for sure. I’m sure he knew I was coming.”