Alex Palou retakes IndyCar points lead with Road America victory

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One week after losing the IndyCar championship lead by one point to Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou answered with his second win of the 2021 season in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America.

The similarities between the two races were remarkable. Last week Josef Newgarden led the most laps in Race 2 at Detroit only to be overtaken when late-race caution allowed a determined O’Ward to sweep past him with three laps remaining. At Road America, Newgarden once again led the most laps until something snapped in the drivetrain as the field returned to green with two laps to go.

Palou pounced and took the lead for the third time before driving away to a two-second lead over Colton Herta.

“Super happy; super proud of the Chip Ganassi Racing team,” Palou told NBC’s Dave Burns. “I can’t believe it.”

This is the second consecutive win for the No. 10 team at Road America. Last year Felix Ronsenqvist scored the victory for Chip Ganassi Racing in this car on the heels of another win the day previous for Scott Dixon.

“We started not super good, but we made some progress and I feel like we are always really good when the weekend ends,” Palou said in the postrace press conference. “Every round, with the reds, with the blacks, we were getting closer to Josef, so I was really happy. I don’t know what happened to him, but we took the lead and that was very exciting.”

Last week, O’Ward’s strong showing in Detroit’s two races allowed him to overcome a 37-point deficit. Palou was unfazed, pointing out that points could be regained just as quickly. Quicker, as it turned out. Palou’s win, coupled with a ninth-place finish for O’Ward, allowed Palou to leave Wisconsin with a 28-point lead.

It was another heartbreak for Newgarden, who won the pole in back-to-back races and dominated both events only to have victory snatched away at the end.

“I couldn’t get it to shift into sixth gear,” Newgarden said in a release. “And then I got it stuck in fifth in Turn 1 and finally got it to go down, but just could not get it to upshift after that. So I got it down to first essentially. So just trying to stay out of the way after that because I couldn’t get it to upshift after that. I’m not sure what happened.”

Newgarden maintained fourth in the standings, but is now 88 points out of first.

“I guess it just wasn’t meant to be again,” Newgarden continued. “I think we have fast cars, its just not working out right now. But now we will claw. We will claw our way back. This is not what I was planning for this day. I would have liked for us to be a little closer. But, what are we 88 (points back)? Just a bigger challenge when we go to next race. We’ll get after it.”

In Detroit, cautions played a critical role when they fell at inopportune times. This week, the cautions seemed to play in to Newgarden’s favor until his drive train failure.

After opening the season with seven different winners in the first seven races, IndyCar now has back-to-back second-time winners. In their early 20s, both are part of the youth movement.

In his second season at the top level, Palou has now led seven of the first nine races.

This was the sixth consecutive race in which the driver who led the most laps failed to win the race – the first time that has happened since 1978.

“I don’t know what it is about our team right now,” third-place Will Power said about Newgarden’s failure in the post-race press conference. “We almost have a win in the bag and then something ridiculous happens. I don’t know what it was, but things you couldn’t prep for; you couldn’t avoid.”

After coming close last week, Herta scored his second podium of the season with his second-place finish. He won the second race of the season at St. Petersburg. Last week he came close to earning another podium with a fourth-place finish and he enters the second half of the season with momentum.

“It was one of those days when we just didn’t have enough pace. We were down two or three tenths a lap to Alex and Josef, especially at the beginning of the race. Once the grip came in and our car tightened up a little bit, it helped.”

For Power, his third-place finish stopped a skid of seven races in which he finished off the podium. After finishing second at Barber Motorsports Park to start the season, he was eighth or worse until the second race in Detroit. He was poised to win the first race before his ECU failed during red flag conditions and finished sixth in Race 2.

In his IndyCar debut subbing for the injured Rosenqvist, Kevin Magnussen stayed out and led when most of the field pitted during the an early caution that was brought out by a Jimmie Johnson spin.  His time at the front was limited when he was forced to pit.

Unfortunately, Magnussen was the cause of the second caution of the day soon after he returned to the track. He retired on lap 35 when his car suddenly lost power.

Dixon in fourth and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top five.

Results

1. (5) Alex Palou, Honda, 55, Running
2. (2) Colton Herta, Honda, 55, Running
3. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 55, Running
4. (13) Scott Dixon, Honda, 55, Running
5. (7) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 55, Running
6. (18) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 55, Running
7. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 55, Running
8. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 55, Running
9. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 55, Running
10. (22) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 55, Running
11. (14) Graham Rahal, Honda, 55, Running
12. (16) Oliver Askew, Chevrolet, 55, Running
13. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 55, Running
14. (17) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 55, Running
15. (19) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 55, Running
16. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 55, Running
17. (3) Jack Harvey, Honda, 55, Running
18. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 55, Running
19. (25) Cody Ware, Honda, 55, Running
20. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 55, Running
21. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 55, Running
22. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 54, Running
23. (12) Ed Jones, Honda, 50, Off Course
24. (21) Kevin Magnussen, Chevrolet, 33, Off Course
25. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 19, Mechanical