Pagenaud happy to finish P2, but Penske team struggles in Texas

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As hard as it is to believe, Simon Pagenaud entered Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 without a podium finish to his name in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The year has actually been very problematic for Pagenaud, with three finishes of 13th or worse – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was the low-point of the year, as he finished 24th following a Lap 1 crash after contact with Graham Rahal.

Yet, finishes of ninth (the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama), eighth (the INDYCAR Grand Prix), and sixth (the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500), along with a 10th in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit gave Pagenaud a little bit of momentum entering Texas on Saturday night, and he leaves Texas with a lot more momentum on his side.

Pagenaud managed to outduel the hard-charging Alexander Rossi in the final laps to finish second, his best result of 2018.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, and Alexander Rossi, driver of the #27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda, race during the Verizon IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

For Pagenaud, the result is a much-needed shot in the arm as he hopes to jumpstart his 2018 season.

“Just to get a good result like this for us, I think the 22 team needed a break. I think we got one tonight. For DXC, it’s pretty awesome. We had about three thousand employees from DXC tonight, so it was good to have a good showing.”

Pagenaud added, “This year’s been a tough start. There were a lot of unknowns. Got taken out a few times, which hasn’t happened in the past. It’s not all unknown, not easy to understand. From then on, luck always turns around. It goes by cycle. Now it’s about executing. Myself, everybody on the team, really executed well today. It’s a good example of what we need to do every weekend.”

Pagenaud’s result serves as the highlight of an otherwise tough night for Team Penske. All three drivers battled tire blistering, with pole sitter Josef Newgarden making an unscheduled pit stop on lap 97, which dropped him from contention – he eventually finished 13th after getting a penalty for jumping a restart with 34 laps to go.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, pits during the Verizon IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“You know, pretty much anything bad that could have happen happened tonight for the No. 1 Verizon team,” Newgarden lamented. “Everyone worked real hard and the guys gave me a great car. Everyone did everything they could tonight. It was a great effort from my team. Pretty much, anything that could have went wrong went wrong tonight. That is all there is to it. We will move on to Road America.”

Teammate Will Power suffered even more misfortune, crashing out on Lap 205 with Dale Coyne Racing’s Zachary Claman De Melo – Claman De Melo had a run on the outside of Power exiting Turn 4, but he washed up into the rookie driver, causing both to hit the wall.

Blame was ultimately assigned to Power, who will be assessed a post-race penalty for avoidable contact.

“The guys in front of me were saving a lot of fuel and completely lifting to try and make it and (Claman De Melo) went around on the outside. Unfortunately, the timing stand was talking to me at that exact moment and I couldn’t hear my spotter call, “Outside,” and there was someone outside at that point. It’s just a bad situation, but something that happens at a track like this. It was not (Claman De Melo’s) fault,” Power said of the incident.

Power’s crash dropped him to third in the championship, 36 points behind new points leader Scott Dixon, while Newgarden remains in fifth, 68 points out of the lead. Pagenaud, meanwhile, moved up to eighth, and is 60 points behind Newgarden for fifth in the standings.

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”