INDIANAPOLIS – Speculating on Simon Pagenaud’s future has been an enticing parlor game in the NTT IndyCar series this season, but an Indianapolis 500 win finally might have quashed the conjecture.
Sunday’s victory was the record 18th in the Indy 500 for team owner Roger Penske, who tends to keep around drivers who deliver a checkered flag at the Brickyard.
So did it ensure that Pagenaud would return to Team Penske next season?
“What do you think?” Penske said with a broad smile. “Absolutely!”
Pagenaud cemented his dominant May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by leading a race-high 116 of 200 laps and outdueling runner-up Alexander Rossi in a thrilling finish.
It came on the heels of the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet driver capturing the pole position at the Brickyard last weekend and making a furious charge through the rain to beat Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Grand Prix on IMS’ road course two weeks ago.
Pagenaud has been coy about his contract beyond 2019. When asked after his win Sunday by NBC Sports’ Marty Snider about if the questions about his job security had motivated him, he said, “It didn’t. I’m just focused on the job, man. When you a car like this, a team like this, you just work your way.”
After a winless 2018, Pagenaud has two consecutive victories and the series points lead. Penske was asked whether the 2016 series champion’s ride had been jeopardy without raising his performance this season.
“I don’t think that I said anything to the media about Simon,” Penske said. “He’s on our team. He’s one of our drivers. You’ve seen that. That was scuttlebutt. I think that’s a good word for it.
“But what he did this month, certainly he achieved records in his own personal life and certainly what he had expected to, and the run today, it’s a history book run for me when we think about some of the races — an opportunity to be in the winner’s circle, so he did a great job.”
Chief strategist Kyle Moyer said Pagenaud’s May was reflective of the expectation for any driver at Team Penske, which has 18 Indy 500 wins, including two in a row and three of the past five.
“Team Penske has always been winners, that’s why I came here, that’s why Simon is here, so you’re expected to win,” Moyer said. “So when you’re not, you’ve got to figure out a way to do it. Simon has done that. I think in this month he’s actually forced it on you to show you that he can win. Like I told you a month ago, I said, if he wins one, there’s no reason he can’t win five in a row, because he’s that type of driver once he gets the confidence built.”