INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen

Indy 500 winner Pagenaud switches gears to Detroit

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DETROIT – It was a cold, overcast Thursday, but Simon Pagenaud was “Mr. Sunshine.”

The winner of the 103rdIndianapolis 500 was still living on adrenalin from the biggest victory of his career and going from one personal appearance to the next in advance of this weekend’s Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit.

It’s been a busy week for the first driver from France to win the Indianapolis 500 since Rene Thomas in 1914, but this is what a racing driver lives for.

Bruce Martin Photo“I’ve had six hours of sleep in the last 48 hours, but I don’t care, I can sleep later,” Smiling Simon told NBC Sports.com Thursday as he was about to give Pace Car rides around the temporary street course at Belle Isle to Chevrolet guests on Thursday. “I don’t feel tired at all. After the race, I didn’t feel human. But I got my sleep the last two nights so I’m ready to go.”

Pagenaud must switch gears from the biggest race of the year on the massive 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval to a tight, demanding 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street course on an island in the middle of the Detroit River.

On top of that, it’s two races in one week with 70-lap contests on both Saturday and Sunday.

And, it’s the “Boss’s Track” as Pagenaud’s team owner Roger Penske is the track promoter of the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit.

“It’s pretty simple – we’re racers and all we want to do is set next challenges and next goals,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports.com. “I’m ready. I feel so energized. I’ve never felt so much energy in my life.

“Obviously winning carries, me with a lot of momentum. Now, I’m focused on Detroit. It’s a big race for us at Team Penske.

“I won my first IndyCar Series race at Detroit (in 2013); I’d like to add to those numbers.”

Pagenaud scored his first career victory at Detroit when he was with Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports in 2013. That team is now Arrow Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. He moved over to Team Penske in 2015 and has a second-place finish here in 2016 and a fifth-place in 2017.

The Indy 500 winner has won at Detroit in the same season just one time. That was Helio Castroneves in 2001.

There are plenty of past Indy 500 winners that have won at Detroit, including Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay, but never in the same season they won the Indy 500.

When Castroneves won Detroit after the Indy 500 in 2001, it was preceded by a race at the Milwaukee Mile short oval the week after Indianapolis.

“I would like to be the first and add numbers again,” Pagenaud said. “This is a fun track. I really enjoy it. This is a very physical weekend. I think that is an advantage for us.

“It is a grueling media tour after the Indy 500, and you go through so much emotion. Some may have struggled through the task at hand. I don’t feel that way at all. I want to get in the race car and have some fun.”

Pagenaud’s whirlwind started after taking the checkered flag in the Indy 500 last Sunday. He was honored at the annual Indy 500 Victory Awards Ceremony at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis Monday night, then flew to New York after it was over.

Tuesday began with a media appearance at 6:45 a.m. and concluded at 11 p.m. that night.

“It was awesome to be welcomed as the Indianapolis 500 winner,” Pagenaud said. “We got to the go to the Empire State Building and saw the set of Jimmy Fallon and also the set for Saturday Night Live on NBC.

“That was very cool as well.

“I was surprised that people knew about me in New York. The most memorable moment, though, was talking to President Trump.”

Because of severe weather on the East Coast, he was unable to get to Texas for another day of media appearances for Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday.

He arrived in Detroit Thursday morning, attending the annual Detroit Grand Prix Media Luncheon followed by appearances for Chevrolet.

On Friday, Pagenaud strapped himself back in his No. 22 Chevrolet for the first practice for this weekend’s doubleheader.

He also switched into “race driver mode” as he described the challenges of Detroit.

“There are passing opportunities into Turn 3 and Turn 7,” Pagenaud explained. “It’s a good track for the show. It’s grueling for everybody. It’s bumpy. You have to be on top of your game, here.”

It’s been said winning the Indianapolis 500 changes the life of the winner. Pagenaud may discover that over time.

For now, however, He is enjoying the ride and the next stop is Detroit.

“I’m the same guy,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve won the biggest race in the world and that is a huge accomplishment for my name, my family name and my generation to come.

“This is satisfaction, but back to business this week.

“I want to keep rolling. I’m Detroit right now. I want to get going. I love driving and I want to feel those limits. I’ve set myself a new goal and that is to win the championships this year.”

SIMON PAGENAUD’S SCHEDULE SINCE WINNING THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500 ON MAY 26

Sunday:

NBC broadcast sign-off

ESPN SportsCenter

Local and regional TV affiliates

BAND TV

SMT: WDIV Detroit, L’Auto Journal, Radio Europe 1, KCWI Des Moines, KCRA Sacramento, KPIX San Francisco, CNNi, FOX 19 Cincinnati, WGCL Atlanta, WSYX Columbus, WLW Radio Cincinnati, WBNS Columbus, WLWT Cincinnati, NBC 5 Nashville, FOX Sports Radio, France TV, Canal +

Racer Magazine photo shoot

Monday:

NBCSports.com

The Ride with JMV – 1070 The Fan Indy

RACER.com interview

SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “The Morning Drive”

Borg-Warner Photo Shoot

Jostens Photo Shoot

Champion’s Photo Shoot on Yard of Bricks

Morning after press conference

Scrum with French media following press conference

Honda INDYCAR Race Report

Forbes.com

Road and Track

Sirius XM “The Real Spin”

For The Win

Dan Dakich Show – 1070 The Fan

Query and Schultz

Speed City Radio

Detroit News

Victory Celebration Red Carpet

Tuesday (New York):

610 The Fan Charlotte – Mac Attack

Good Day New York

NASDAQ Opening Bell (picked up by Bloomberg, BNN, CNBC, FOX Business)

Empire State Building photo opp: New York Times, FOX Sports, NHL Celebrity Wrap, AP TV, Agence France-Presse (AFP), KCS Presse, SSNEWSIMAGES,  SIPA USA, UPI

Reuters

SI Now

Sports Illustrated social media

Sports Illustrated photo shoot

Road and Track

WNBC New York

6th Annual “Toast on Top” Party: ABC News One, AFP, Adweek, Blomberg, Consumer Report, Forbes, Fox Sports (.com and First Things First), Front Office Sports, Good Day New York, Hearst Auto, Fast Company/Inc, New York Times, New York Post/Page Six, Reuters, Road and Track, Sports Illustrated, UEG Worldwide, USA TODAY, CNBC, FOX Business, FOX News, Wall Street Journal, SiriusXM, CNN Business, CBS This Morning, ABC News, Women’s Wear Daily, Bloomberg TV (Partners in attendance: Gainbridge, SiriusXM, BHV, NBC, Crown Royal, Firestone)

Wednesday (over the phone – weather prevented him from getting to DFW):

RPM Radio (Austin)

TrackSmack Radio

SiriusXM Radio “From Press Box to Press Row”

WWLS Sports Animal (OK City)

Texas Motor Speedway “No Limits” podcast

French Morning

Thursday:

Detroit media luncheon

Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

Follow @JerryBonkowski