The odds are stacked against Simon Pagenaud this weekend. See, normally drivers have that quote on quote Indianapolis 500 victory hangover following a win in the years biggest race. It’s not uncommon for a driver to struggle the next race following such an emotional win.
Rightfully so too. The Indy 500 race winner is off their routine leaving Indy and before heading to the next destination in Belle Isle. Pagenaud, admitted he only got a couple of hours of sleep on Sunday night after his ‘500 win and before having his winner’s photo shoot on the Yard of Bricks on Monday morning. Then, it’s a Victory Banquet on Monday night and off to national media obligations immediately after.
Instead of being in his routine and preparing for the next race, he’s jetting across the country in a few grueling days of media. By Friday, he’ll just be happy to be in his race car for a change.
But, if Pagenaud wants to remain in the hunt to win his second series championship of his career, he has to remain focused for the task at hand. See, Belle Isle has been a good track for his championship counter parts and they’ll show up to Detroit this weekend well rested and ready to go.
“Winning the Indianapolis 500 was one of the biggest days of my life and something I will forever be proud of,” said Pagenaud. “But the season isn’t over. We need to start looking at Detroit and the rest of the season, as there are other goals to achieve when it comes to other wins and the championship. And now I’m leading the championship, so it’s fantastic. I told (engineer) Ben Bretzman before the month of May, knowing our momentum, that we can win the next two and be in the championship, and it happened.
“So we’re going to go into Detroit with a really good street car. We’ve done a lot of work on that car, and I think we’re going to be strong there. So I’m excited. I love that track. That’s the place where I won my first Indy car race in 2013, so we’ll try to make it happen again.”
Josef Newgarden has five top 10 finishes in his last six Belle Isle starts including three fourth place runs and a runner-up in Race No. 2 in 2017. He’s finished first (St. Pete) and second (Long Beach) respectively on street course races this season. Newgarden, trails Pagenaud by just one point heading into the weekend. But, he says it’s going to take his A-Game to compete with the best this weekend.
“Those that have really been paying attention to NTT IndyCar Series racing could tell that Simon (Pagenaud) was on the verge of a breakout run,” said Newgarden. “We saw it in Indianapolis, and I think he and the (No.) 22 team are going to be strong contenders for the title for the rest of the season. We want to have the championship battle come down to the Team Penske cars and it certainly appears that the three of us will have a shot at Laguna Seca. To win at Detroit this weekend is going to take the ‘A game’ from the No. 2 Hitachi Chevy team. It’s a tough place that hasn’t been my best track in the past, but there is no track on the circuit where I think this team can’t win.”
Third place in the standings Alexander Rossi has finished fifth (St. Pete) and first (Long Beach) respectively this year. He also has four top 10 finishes in six career Belle Isle starts including three top seven finishes in the last two years. He should have finished at the very least runner-up in last year’s second race of the weekend but instead made a costly mistake while trying to hold off his Andretti Autosport teammate of Ryan Hunter-Reay for the win. He’d finish 12th as a result. Don’t expect that to happen again. He’s out for redemption.
“We’re really excited to get back to work in Detroit and carry the momentum forward from a strong race last weekend,” Rossi said. “We have some unfinished business here based on Race 2 last year and we will be looking to get two strong results to hopefully leave here in the lead of the championship.”
Then there’s Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon who are each tied for fourth. Sato, has seven top 11 finishes in his last eight Belle Isle starts including finishes of eight, fourth, fifth and 17th respectively on the Detroit area street circuit since 2017. Dixon, has five straight top six finishes (5th, 2nd, 6th, 1st, 4th) respectively and seven in his last eight starts overall. He’s finished on the podium in both street course races this season (2nd, 3rd) and has four podiums in six tries overall in 2019.
See how the usual suspects will be up front?
That’s a lot of pressure on Pagenaud who has only finished seventh and sixth respectively on street courses this year and has just two top five finishes at Belle Isle over his last seven starts.
Will Power is right there in sixth in the standings and has three straight top seven finishes in Belle Isle and four in his last five.
The cream rise to the top and we will see if Pagenaud can race with some fatigue this weekend.