Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud feels no stress as he pursues second championship

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PORTLAND, Oregon – With two races remaining in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Simon Pagenaud has already had what can only be described as a “dream season”.

The Frenchman found success early on in the season when he passed Scott Dixon for the lead with five laps remaining to win the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the first victory for the No. 22 team since the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in 2017.

One week later, Pagenaud won the pole position for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, a race he then went on to win the following weekend after a memorable battle with Alexander Rossi for the victory.

A complete sweep of the month of May at Indy would already make any driver’s season, but Pagenaud wasn’t, and still isn’t done just yet.

He won from the pole on the streets of Toronto in July and now with two races remaining, he sits second in the championship standings, 38 points behind his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.

A second championship would obviously put an exclamation point on Pagenaund’s already successful 2019 campaign.

“It’s been going very well for us,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports. “2016 was pretty awesome, but I think I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had. Winning Indy really allowed me to just step back and enjoy things a bit more.”

This team has been very, very focused – more so than ever – and I’ve been able to unlock some doors mentally speaking that have allowed me to be more aggressive in some instances, but also still calculate my position, so at this point we have been slowly marching toward the front of the championship.”

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With a second title within reach, one might assume that the next two races would be extremely stressful for Pagenaud.

However, Pagenaud is not going to let any negative emotions get in his way. In fact, he feels no pressure while pursing championship number two.

“My goal is to win the championship,” Pagenaud said. “But the way to win it this year, I think, is to just focus on myself.

“I think when you have fun, things roll for you and you attract the right side of the universe. I really believe that.

“My goal is really to  keep doing what I’ve been doing, and I think it will sort itself out at this point. I already feel so fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I’m in the best team, I’ve won the biggest race in the world, and I’ve won this championship before. I feel no stress. I feel no anxiety. I just feel like it’s time to go, and I’m only looking forward. It’s really the ideal situation.”

In regards to ideal situations, finishing 1-2 in the final standings would certainly be the ideal situation for Team Penske, and Pagenaud knows that if he is going to race his teammate for the championship, he needs to race him carefully.

“I would try not to get together [with Newgarden],” Pagenaud said. “That’s the main goal.

“Having a teammate fight for it is not always great because you have to take care of each other and you want one of the cars to win. I want that, so I always take extra care with Josef more than I would with someone else.”

Make no mistake though, just because Pagenaud doesn’t want to cause unnecessary trouble for his teammate, doesn’t mean he doesn’t want win the championship. He just understands that at the end of the day, racing is really a team sport, and he wants to share a possible title with the whole crew.

“We wouldn’t be here without them,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a sport that everybody thinks is a selfish sport where the driver does it all. But really [as drivers], we’re at the end of the cycle.

“You got mechanics that repair our cars. We haven’t had a mechanical issue all year. You’ve got the shock department. The do a lot of work understanding the dampers. I could go on and on. There’s a whole team behind us that’s just trying every bit to get better.

“If you forget about them, you’re not going to win.”

Live coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland begins Sunday, September 1 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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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.