By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It was a good start for Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden, but struggled chasing down race winner Scott Dixon during Saturday’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway as they ended up second and third respectively.
Newgarden led the 23-car field to the green flag, but his shot of winning back-to-back at Texas was derailed due to understeering and vibration issues. Despite the problems, he felt that scoring his 30th career INDYCAR podium was a win for him.
“Tonight feels like a victory to me. We were not very good,” said Newgarden. “Congrats to Scott. They were amazing tonight. I mean, they were just a cut above. They are very deserving winners.
“We did everything we could to fight to stay up front. Early on I was doing everything I could to keep Scott behind. He was way quicker. Once I got a little deeper into the pack, it was even harder to hang onto that front area.”
Newgarden added that his No. 1 XPEL Chevrolet had good enough speed, but handling wise wasn’t perfect in order to get the most out of a full stint and its one side he’ll hope his Team Penske squad improves on next time.
“We’ll be working hard to come back and make sure we understand why that was,” said Newgarden. “We’ll be hunting for a win soon. It was a good night to finish third. Great to have XPEL on as a new partner. We want more than that. We want to come into the next race and try to fight for the victory.”
What proved to be the turning point of the race, Dixon got a tremendous run on Newgarden into Turn 1 on the 91st lap and simply never looked back. The reigning INDYCAR champion admitted that Dixon, who scored his 47th career INDYCAR win, was simply way better than him tonight.
“He had a good run, was able to stay pretty tight fresh on tires, like he talked about. Honestly tonight for me was a night of hanging on. I was doing everything I could just to try to stay up front,” Newgarden on Dixon.
“When he came up alongside me on the front straightaway there, it was not really much I could fight. He was coming with a head of steam. It would have been foolish for me to try to bury the car into turn one and fight him. I think he was far enough ahead, he was going to pass me either way.
“It’s one of those nights you just got to kind of swallow your pride. We knew we just weren’t good enough tonight. Look, I just tried to finish as high as possible. That was what we did. The team really put me in a position to do that. We had amazing stops. We kept fighting and trying to create a strategy to keep me up front even though I wasn’t very good throughout a tire stint.”
Pagenaud’s 33rd career podium also matched his best finish at Texas from 2018, also won by Dixon.
He felt good being back in a race car and under the current situation due to COVID-19 where no crowds are allowed to attend at least the first two races, he had a blast running at Texas and was reminded why he enjoys the sport due to maximizing his opportunity.
“Being able to in this situation in the world right now, being able to come back, the INDYCAR Series put on this action-packed show today, I just had a blast, I really did. I remembered why I’m racing. I certainly had the best time of my life tonight,” Pagenaud commented.
“Obviously you want to win. I’m here to win. But I think we maximized our opportunity, quite frankly.”
Following Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist crashing out while running second and lapping James Hinchcliffe with 10 laps to go, Pagenaud had one last shot at Dixon. However, the restart for the three-lap shootout confused the Frenchman as he had the lapped car of Pato O’Ward ahead of him which ended his shot at a 15th career win.
“I didn’t understand the situation. I need to look at the rules. Maybe I’m the one that didn’t understand it. Yeah, I was surprised that they didn’t move the cars,” Pagenaud on setting up the final dash to the finish. “I’m assuming it’s because they wanted to go back green. Quite frankly, I get that. You have to give a show. We’re here for a show at the end of the day.
“Again, with everything that’s going on, we couldn’t finish under yellow, even though we did but it was the last corner. I think that’s probably what race control saw. The only way they could go back green in time before the end was to do that. If they decided to do that, I totally get it.”
That in mind, much like Newgarden’s comment on Dixon, Pagenaud agreed the five-time series champion was too good to dethrone.
Both drivers agree the race proved very difficult to pass another competitor. In Newgarden’s case, the Firestone tires which drivers can only run 35 green flag laps per set, just wasn’t up to par due to the previously mentioned handling issues.
“It’s really about how you’re working the tires. I think that’s where we struggled personally on the 1 car tonight,” said Newgarden. “We were not in the right operating range. I struggled with tires mightily right from the beginning of each stint. That’s all part of the game.
“It’s new with this Aeroscreen. We took a little bit of a guess on our car. It didn’t come out as a winning guess. It at least gives us a direction. We’re going to work with it and figure out what’s best for it.”
Unlike Newgarden, Pagenaud took a different approach with his No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet. He started a different page from last year due to the unknowns the one-day show had in store and tire degradation came out different than he would’ve expected.
“When you only have an hour and a half of testing, you only have time for three changes, quick fix, but it’s not like you can reinvent the wheel and go into qualifying and race with something you haven’t even tested on track,” said Pagenaud.
“It was pretty much a day today where you had to unload good to win the race I think. I think we were okay on the 22 car. I think we were actually getting pretty good at the end. Yeah, just ran a bit out of time I think. But overall I think we maximized what we had.”
It’ll be less than a month for the second round of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series campaign to commence as they’ll head to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course for the running of the GMR Grand Prix July 4. Pagenaud is the defending race winner.