April 24 in Motorsports History: Simon Pagenaud wins at Barber

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After a tough first season with Team Penske in the year prior, things finally began to click for Simon Pagenaud in 2016.

The Frenchman finished second in the first two races of 2016 at St. Petersburg and Phoenix and then scored his first victory in nearly two years in the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Simon Pagenaud celebrates after winning the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 24, 2016. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

One week later, the IndyCar Series traveled to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Pagenaud proved a legitimate contender early in the weekend, winning the pole position Saturday.

On Sunday, April 24, Pagenaud dominated the race, leading all but six laps. While he made the race look like an easy Sunday drive early, Pagenaud got caught up in lapped traffic in the closing laps, allowing Graham Rahal to catch up and challenge him for the lead.

On Lap 82 of 90, Rahal made contact with Pagenaud as he passed for the lead in Turn 7. The incident forced Pagenaud off track and damaged Rahal’s front wing.

While Pagenaud lost the lead, he still was able to catch up to Rahal four laps later. As Pagenaud attempted to pass Rahal at the exit of turn six, Rahal made contact with the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth, destroying his front wing completely and ending any chance he had to hold off Pagenaud.

Exiting Turn 14, Pagenaud retook the lead from Rahal. He won by 13.748 seconds over Rahal.

“I had a really fast car,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports in Victory Lane. “With traffic, it was all about making sure I could keep Graham behind me.

“Anyways, I won the race. Graham damaged his front wing, so I just took my chances. I didn’t know he was struggling. Then I just ran away. … I’m driving my best and having a fantastic time with the whole team.”

Pagenaud would continue to drive his best in 2016, winning three more times. His final victory came in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 18, clinching his first series championship.

Also on this date:

1966: Rodger Ward won the Trenton 150 in his next-to-last open-wheel start. Born on Jan. 10, 1921, in Beloit, Kansas, Ward served as a fighter pilot in WWII.

After leaving the service in 1946, Ward began a successful racing career that would see him amass 26 open-wheel victories including the Indy 500 in 1959 and 1962. After racing, Ward served as a broadcaster for ABC Sports and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. He died on July 5, 2004.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).