Alex Palou wins at Portland to reclaim IndyCar points lead as Pato O’Ward struggles to 14th

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Alex Palou emphatically reclaimed the NTT IndyCar Series points lead Sunday with a win in the Grand Prix of Portland.

With his third victory of the season, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver zoomed past Pato O’Ward to the top of the championship standings with two races remaining.

Alexander Rossi finished 1.2895 seconds behind in second at Portland, followed by Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey and Josef Newgarden, who lost ground to Palou in the standings and trails by 34 points.

Winning from the pole position, Palou, 24, reclaimed the points lead with a rebound from consecutive DNFs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (engine) and World Wide Technology Raceway (crash).

The Spaniard was making his first start at Portland, just as he will be over the next two weeks at Laguna Seca and Long Beach in trying to become IndyCar’s first new series champion in four years.

After starting on the pole, the second-year driver had to restart 17th after going off course to avoid a typical first-corner melee on the road course.

Palou and his teammate Dixon (who restarted 18th) were among several drivers who were placed behind the cars that missed the first-corner incident that seemed to start when Dixon was hit by Felix Rosenqvist.

James Hinchcliffe was eliminated in the wreck, and Will Power, Romain Grosjean, Oliver Askew, and Helio Castroneves all suffered damage. Per IndyCar rules, drivers who avoid a collision but leave the track are placed behind those who remained on the racing surface, which is why Roseqnvist, Palou and Dixon all restarted outside the top 15.

The Ganassi drivers disagreed with the call.

“I don’t know what IndyCar was thinking about, you avoid an accident, and they put you in the back,” Palou told NBC Sports pit reporter Kelli Stavast. “But anyway, we kept our heads down. We knew the race was really long. I can not believe it. We made it. The strategy was amazing.”

Said Dixon: “It’s just one of those situations. The call was on race control to put us all at the back was definitely interesting, but lo and behold, it worked out for us. Huge congratulations to Alex, the team. Just a weird start to the day and thankful it ended up working out for us.”

O’Ward went from a 10-point lead over Palou entering the weekend to a 25-point deficit after a mediocre 14th at Portland. The Arrow McLaren SP driver led for 28 laps after taking the lead under the first yellow.

But O’Ward’s strategy went sour on a full-course yellow on Lap 52, and his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet struggled for pace afterward while the driver complained about a loss of power on the straightaways.

“Today was obviously very tough,” O’Ward said. “It just wasn’t our day. We got unlucky with some of the yellows, and this race favored the alternate strategy, which you can see when you look at the results. It just goes to show how exciting of a sport IndyCar is at every race.

“We gave it everything we had all weekend. The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP crew was solid on every stop. We are up against some great competitors for the championship, but we will come back the next two races and fight down to the last lap in Long Beach.”

Said Palou: “I don’t care that much about the points at the moment. I just think the race we did today was amazing. Not me but the guys with the strategy, the pit stops with everything. We still won, so I’m proud about that.”