By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California — Zach Veach’s weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was flipped on its head as the Ohio native managed to race home fourth for his first top five finish in Verizon IndyCar Series competition.
Veach started 16th in his No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda and parlayed a two stop strategy mixed with a small amount of luck into a career-best finish, which brought congratulations from numerous people on pit lane after starting so far back.
“I think the big thing for me is my race pace is just a lot better than my qualifying pace,” said Veach. “Qualifying’s all about putting that lap together piece by piece and to be honest I’ve been kind of struggling with that. I’ll get 80 percent of the lap right and then make a mistake so the race just kind of came together, I just felt more whole in the car anyway.”
The Andretti Autosport pilot started the weekend with a mistake on his car’s setup that was fixed Friday afternoon. Having to re-learn the car, Veach couldn’t advance past the first round of qualifying. In Sunday morning warmup, he was 22nd quickest overall out of 24 cars.
“I was able to pick up enough information in practice and qualifying and warmup to be able to really drive the car as well as it needed to be (driven) in the race,” added Veach.
Pitting for the first time on Lap 26, Veach had climbed as high as seventh before he fell down to 18th. The Andretti Autosport driver used the yellow caused by Kyle Kaiser to extend his middle stint to 30 laps and Lap 56 marked the final time Veach would visit pit lane.
Another full course yellow played out in Veach’s favor on Lap 60 as Zachary Claman De Melo hit the wall between Turns 9 and 10, bringing out a full course yellow that brought four of the top seven cars to pit lane. Veach then restarted fifth, but moved to fourth when Scott Dixon was assessed a drive-thru penalty for taking service in a closed pit.
Veach was unable to get around the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda of Ed Jones for third, but in the end, there were still smiles all around.
“(Fourth) feels like a win, to be honest,” said Veach. “The crew was pushing me pretty hard at the end to try to get on the podium but… after St. Pete, after Phoenix, we’ve just been chipping away on it and we took a big swing at it today.
“I’ve got to thank my Group One Thousand One guys, honestly. I kind of made a mishap in qualifying to put us 16th. Today we had great strategy, great stops. They got me to where I could capitalize on it so this is more for them than me.”