How O’Ward won Sunday’s XPEL 375, an inside look

FORT WORTH, TX — Scott Dixon was once again doing Scott Dixon things for most of Sunday’s XPEL 375 from the Texas Motor Speedway. The Kiwi led 206 of 212 laps in a dominating win in Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series race in Texas and that turned into the pole for today’s 248 lap event.

Dixon, dominated early. He led 163 of the first 185 laps. The only way that he wasn’t going to win this race was something out of his hands happening. Well, that something happened.

It all started with Jack Harvey’s caution for a mechanical failure on Lap 117. Dixon, had led all but eight laps up until that point of the day, but that yellow completely altered the complexity to this race.

Everyone pit during that caution period on Lap 119 and from then on, it went into a fuel saving race. Dixon, didn’t want to lead. Neither did anyone else.

Graham Rahal passed Dixon for the lead on Lap 139, but Dixon stormed back 12 laps later on Lap 151 to regain the top spot. Rahal, slowed so much, Dixon couldn’t risk allowing everyone else behind to gain ground of them any longer. So he made his move back.

Everyone that stint was just trying to conserve enough fuel to get them to a point to where they could pit for one last time and make it to the end without stopping again.

Dixon and Rahal pit from the top two spots on Lap 186. At that point of the race, Chevy had led a grand total of six laps. That comes after Honda led all 212 laps a day prior. Honda had also led 162 of 248 laps in 2018, 194 of 248 laps in 2019 and 159 of 200 laps last year.

They were 1-2 heading to pit road for the final time. But, that was their demise too. The pair of Chevy’s being driven by Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden went a little bit longer on that stint.

It was Lap 188 when O’Ward hit pit lane and Newgarden pit for his final time two laps later. Those two staying out a little bit longer proved to be the winning move.

Rahal, leaped Dixon following their stop, but then O’Ward exited ahead of both. Newgarden, was able to pit and come out ahead of all three due to a caution for Felix Rosenqvist flying on Lap 190 when his right rear tire literally fell off on track.

Takuma Sato, Marcus Ericsson and Ryan Hunter-Reay had yet to pit at that point. Ericsson and Hunter-Reay ducked down pit lane under the final caution of the day. Sato, stayed out. He last hit pit lane on Lap 166. There was no way that he could make it to the end. So, the guys behind him were in the best position and they lineup behind was Newgarden, O’Ward, Rahal and Dixon.

Dixon, had the best car but the undercut worked against him. Being in fourth, there was now nothing that he could really do since you really couldn’t go on the PJ1 areas to pass. Rahal, had a fast car, but it went away in the end.

“I mean, I just got a little loose,” Rahal said. “That’s all. On the last restart, I don’t know what happened but I went into one, I just had no grip, I mean, zero. I think I might have picked up some marbles under the yellow that I didn’t acknowledge on the right rear. It was super slippery. Obviously Pato got around me there. He did an excellent job.

“But, yeah, I mean, I think at the end of stint, even the stint before, I just got too loose in the end. That really kind of was my buzz kill. If the front of the car is working well, if we were able to get a little more consistent, we were definitely one of the cars to beat. Midway we were definitely the car to beat. We weren’t able to be in the right spot at the end or have the right balance. That’s life. That’s the way it goes.”

O’Ward, had a faster car than Newgarden, which left Newgarden puzzled, but O’Ward had the pace that Newgarden lacked and was able to pass him and pull away.

“Yeah, it was a decent day for us. Can’t be too disappointed with the second place,” Newgarden said. “Obviously we were in the catbird seat there at the end. Felt like it was going to be possible to get a win today.

“The only thing I was worried about, just seemed like we were lacking some speed for whatever reason. Pato’s Chevy seemed to be performing a little bit better than my Chevy. Regardless, with Chevy in Victory Lane, it’s a good day.

“We had great fuel mileage, great reliability, which are always qualities we get from Chevrolet. Pretty proud about that. Happy to have XPEL on the car, with them being the title sponsor.

“A lot of good positives, but just short at the end of the day.”

O’Ward, caught and passed Newgarden on Lap 224 and never looked back en route to his first career Indy Car victory.

“Yeah, I was looking at what Josef was doing, so I was able to follow somewhat closely to him,” said O’Ward who had finished runner-up to Newgarden twice last season. “Man, I have so much respect for him because he races me so clean, he’s such a great competitor. He definitely allowed us to have a good battle in the end and not put both of us in the wall. He’s a very smart competitor. He’s a great champion. Probably one of the guys you would wish to be racing for the lead of a race or to win a race, yeah. It’s definitely really cool.

“Yeah, Josef was riding not as low as my car liked to ride. I was just watching what he was doing. I was hanging back because I had to hit a number of fuel. It’s a lot harder whenever you’re in clean air.

“Once they let me loose and said, You know what to do, is where I really closed it up. I think it took maybe one or two laps. But he’s someone I can really trust when I’m racing. Around this place, you’re going 210, 220 plus miles an hour, you need someone that can race you hard but clean. Josef is someone that has always raced me very, very clean. It’s someone that I highly respect a lot. Honestly, it was really cool to have the battle of the win with him”

O’Ward said that he just felt confident all day and felt even before the race that a win could be coming later on.

“Man, something about today just felt — I was very calm going into the race,” he said. “I knew I had a good car under me. I knew that if I was just patient.

“In the beginning, it was definitely a struggle because Palou and Dixon were leaving us. It was either try and get by the people, try to catch up, or kind of stay there. Obviously the yellows played into our favor to close everyone back up.

“But, yeah, I just feel like everything aligned today. The pit stops were fantastic. The car was very well-balanced. I was able to attack. I didn’t feel like I was in defensive mode. I felt like if I was let loose, I could attack and I could get the job done. Just definitely a lot harder wherever everybody is kind of on the same mileage of tires.

“Honestly the best option or the best chance to go forward is in the restarts, as you guys probably saw. Last restart was probably what put me in position to win this race.”

When asked what he was feeling once he finally crossed the finish line?

“Just like finally,” he said. “Man, the last like 15 laps, I was just enjoying, enjoying the ride. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know how else to explain it. My donuts were like not the best, but I really wanted to do donuts (smiling).

“But, yeah, I just felt really calm. When we crossed the finish line, I just felt really proud of all the hard work that has gone into this off-season. Many hours go into this, and we’re all here to win. There’s a lot more lows than highs in racing unfortunately. But the highs are very high. We all compete for this moment.

“We’re going to take it in. But we’ve got a long way to go in the championship. The month of May is coming up, going to be very busy. We need to be on top of our game. We’re going to try to rack up as many more wins as we can. If we can’t do that, score as many points as we can.”

But, if that caution doesn’t fly, how does the end of this race shape up? O’Ward clearly had a fast car and he’s a deserving driver. Dixon, had arguably the fastest car all weekend. Rahal’s car was there with Newgarden just battling overall speed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s