After three races in the 2017 season the Indycar points standings had Sebastien Bourdais in first, Scott Dixon in second, and Josef Newgarden in third. And after the fourth race in Phoenix all three of these drivers, as well as everyone else, is looking up at Simon Pagenaud.
Yes, the attendance was looked awful, though no worse than last year. Yes, the race was a bit of a snooze on TV because the passing was, like last year’s race, minimal. But consider that after scoring his first oval win of his career we find the Indycar series this race revealed that we may be in the midst of a genuine Pagenaud Era. Many drivers have moved up to top tier teams like Team Penske, but few have made the impact Pagenaud has.
Here’s Pagenaud’s record during his time with Team Penske: 20 starts, 6 wins, 4 second-place finishes, 1 third-place finish. For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that means
Pagenaud is finishing on the podium more times than he is not. And he’s just now figuring out ovals. Brace yourselves.
To be fair, Pagenaud’s win came largely with an assists from Mikhail Aleshin and Takuma Sato. Aleshin’s spin on the first lap led to what might end up as the most profitable moment for Dallara parts suppliers all season. No less than FIVE cars were mortally wounded, and that’s not counting those that might have suffered minor damage from the boatloads of debris on track. But to the point, the incident led to 20-plus laps of yellow flag “racing” – an oxymoron if ever there was.
Sato’s meet-and-greet with the wall in turn four was even more crucial, because it came at a time when nearly every other competitor had made their second pit stop. Pagenaud had been patient trailing his Penske teammates and had managed to save enough fuel that he, at that very moment, had a lap on the entire field, which allowed him to put under caution and maintain the lead. A subsequent wave-around for all other cars placed Pagenaud in front AND with several lapped cars between him and his nearest competitors, which he used to quickly create massive distance between him and Will Power in second place. I mean, like half a lap distance.
The Penske cars were the class of the field, but the Ed Carpenter Racing Chevys mad a good show as well. Carpenter advanced from 20th to 8th on the night, and JR Hildebrand was arguably the most exciting driver to watch as he aggressively forced his way into third place. Perhaps in a parallel universe Sato doesn’t wreck when he did and reading and writing about how Hildebrand, with a broken hand, had scores a victory like a similarly wounded Josef Newgarden did last year at Iowa Speedway.
(“You mean the parallel universe where you’re actually a talented writer?” – The Spotter)
Then again, had Sato not crashed, maybe pole-winer Helio Castroneves would have kept the lead and broken his forty-some race winless streak. Maybe.
Final Lap: Apparently Pagenaud has already mastered ovals, just in another racing series. Cinematically speaking.