INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power scored his 64th career NTT INDYCAR Series pole on a sun filled day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. Colton Herta earned his 7th career win on a soggy yet wild day 24 hours later.
A lot happened from the start of practice on a hot, muggy summer like day on Friday to a slippery spring like afternoon on Saturday.
A 2-hour timed race under cloudy skies with moisture falling off and on all race that ended up seeing the checkered flag in one hand of the flag man and the yellow displayed in the other, you’d think that it would be a miserable afternoon in the Circle City. Instead, it was anything but.
It’s why you can never judge a book by its cover.
A race ending 10 laps shy of the scheduled distance that saw its start moved up by 40 minutes only to see it pushed back to around the original start time with nearly as much caution laps (31) vs. green flag laps (44) you’d think was a snoozer.
Not only was it not, this race may go down in racing lore. It’s one of those that will be discussed years down the road at the race that Herta won in the rain.
We saw 471 on track passes in 75 laps turned. The previous high? 269 which occurred in last August’s race here. Among those 471 passes, 362 were for position. The previous high was 198. Also, 142 of those passes resided in the top 10.
It doesn’t get much better than that folks.
We saw Pato O’Ward go from 5th to 1st on the opening lap, his teammate Felix Rosenqvist from 6th to 2nd while Penske teammate Power and Josef Newgarden battle wheel to wheel to keep up all the while Alex Palou and Conor Daly tried to stay afloat.
However, Herta called this one of the most toughest races he’s ever done. He lucked out by going on a bold early strategy of being the first driver on pit road on Lap 2. They pit to go off of the wets and to go to the slicks. He entered the pits in 15th. He’d exit the sequence in 2nd. Then, Pato O’Ward pit and he and Herta had a hell of a battle commencing for the top spot after.
Herta, made a dramatic save to take over the lead and would now run the course and be the top one on strategy. He’d lead the Arrow McLaren SP duo of O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist while pole sitter Power ride in 4th. Conor Daly was 5th while Josef Newgarden ran 6th.
Settle in right?
Daly’s red tires didn’t agree with his car and he’d fade from 5th to 17th. A charging Alexander Rossi and Jack Harvey would later do battle for 7th but get into Newgarden and take the two-time winner this season out.
Marcus Ericsson had to pit with damage under that caution. It was still the top 4’s battle for the win at this point. Even after another caution, they were there. The focus now turned to the skies as rain was on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway doorstep. Would it get here before Lap 43, the official point of the race to where if we can’t resume the race would be done? I mean, in theory it could rain. It’s the lightning that’s the problem.
Herta wasn’t willing to gamble and pit. O’Ward did so a lap later. Rosenqvist followed suit a lap after his AMSP teammate. By going 1 lap longer, Rosenqvist did the overcut on O’Ward and now was on the attenuator of Herta.
That’s where this race changed. Scott Dixon ran out of gas on pit road, Callum Ilott went off course but resumed while Dalton Kellett not only got off course himself, but into the tire barriers.
The caution would fly. It was a lengthy on to fix the barriers. Rain was fast approaching. At this point, Ericsson played the rain game. So did Kyle Kirkwood. Both didn’t pit and ran 1-2. Would lightning come?
It never did. So while on older tires, Ericsson and Kirkwood would have a hard time staving off Herta, Rosenqvist and O’Ward.
It was now raining. A few drivers pit for rain tires. If rain fell hard enough, this was going to be Alexander Rossi’s, Jimmie Johnson’s and David Malukas’ to lose. The problem is, it never did. So while burning up the wets, they all had to pit for slicks again.
In the meantime, before they hit pit road for slicks again, we had a restart. The AMSP teammates got into one another in Turn 1. Rosenqvist stalled. O’Ward fell outside of the top 10. The guys on wets pit for slicks.
Herta now was in command. The drivers all were ready to hit pit road on Lap 59 under the caution for Jimmie Johnson’s spin. It was raining hard enough for wets. Then it wasn’t. So, in a lost minute change, the teams elected to swap for slicks.
Scott McLaughlin beat Herta off pit road. Then, it rained hard enough to come back down pit lane to now put on the wets. McLaughlin didn’t. Neither did O’Ward and Romain Grosjean. They’d run 1-2-3 on slicks in the wet. Herta was 4th on wets.
McLaughlin spun while leading under caution. So did Grosjean. O’Ward now had to stave off Herta and it didn’t work.
McLaughlin spun again and was relegated to 20th in the end. O’Ward had to pit and finished 18th. Newgarden already out was 25th.
It set up a now Herta, Simon Pagenaud and Power fight for the win. With spray being a factor with harder rain falling, it was essentially game over.
On a late race restart, Herta checked out. Pagenaud couldn’t find him.
“I couldn’t see,” Pagenaud said of Colton Herta on the restart. “I didn’t even know where he was, quite frankly. I picked a few points on the fence to know where I had to brake, but it was very difficult to see without the wiper.”
Power, who was trying now to have a good points day, couldn’t see and kept it conservative.
“At the end there, man, you could not see a thing. There was a spray in front of me. I don’t know how it was behind the one car, but just the two car, I couldn’t imagine being back in tenth, man.
“You don’t know if someone is braking early or you are kind of looking to the fence to get a reference, you kind of lift early. You don’t want to lift too early because no one can see from behind.
“Yeah, pretty crazy day. One to stay on your toes and know when to pick the right tire and definitely not overdo it. Yeah, real happy with third with a day like that. Just survival.”
Pagenaud called his second place finish a win.
“Just really proud of my team,” a jubilant Pagenaud said after the race. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to show results, but the potential has been there the whole time, so I’m really proud that today we were able to show all the hard work that has been done in the background by Mike Shank and everybody at Meyer Shank Racing.
“I’m just very proud of my guys, my whole team. The pit stops were great. We keep pushing. We’re going to keep pushing. Yeah, just super awesome.
“It’s funny. Sometimes second feels like a win. I would have loved to have won today, but I’m taking this home. Everybody was so excited. It’s nice to feel such support from your race team and feel like, yeah, tonight we’re probably going to celebrate like it was a win.”
Pagenaud showed that he can still drive. Don’t count him out just yet. He never lost the speed or the talent or the prowess to compete. He just needed a change of scenery. Pagenaud, finished 8th in Texas, 11th in Barber and while he was 19th in Long Beach, this runner-up has him with 3 top 11’s in his last 4 starts on the season and moving from 12th in points to 8th (-48) going to a race that he’s had 3 top 6 results in his last 4 tries.
“It’s all about process, and I believe in that,” Pagenaud continued. “I’m not someone that jumps in and manage to get you to the front in the first race. It’s not who I am, and I think Mike Shank and Jim Meyer knew that. It’s a process we have through.
“I had frustration up until now because we had so much performance, and it never really showed. Finally we are getting some results, which is very nice. A nice reward with all the hard work we’ve been putting in. It’s been a lot of work to today.
“Obviously, we have the big one coming up soon, and as you know, Helio and myself are really excited about that one. Obviously, it’s a big goal for Helio. A big goal for myself as well. We just have to keep pushing. Certainly a nice reward to take.”
He calls this drive today no fluke. He went from 20th to 13th right away. Then the pit sequence moved him up to 11th. Then after that 9th. Then 7th. Then it started raining. Then 5th. Then McLaughlin and Palou had problems, so third. So on and so forth.
“We made a lot of passes on track for sure and had some very good exchange in the pit stops. That made a difference.”
Power despite having 5 wins here and 6 poles failed to lead a single lap. Still, he has 5 top 4 finishes in as many tries this season and holds a slim points lead heading into the Indianapolis 500.
Ericsson rebounded to finish 4th while Daly also came back up to earn a top 5 in fifth.
“I thought it was just another day in the office, but I never give up in this series, and I tell the team that,” Daly said. “I said, it doesn’t matter if the day is going bad, but I will always be fighting until the end.
“Same in Barber. Same in any track. This is what I love to do. I want to be competitive. I want to beat these guys and girls that we’re racing against, and we obviously beat the majority of them today.
“It was something that worked out in the end, and we’ve seen crazy stuff like this before. I remember Sebastian Bourdais starting last and winning races, and people going all over the place spinning, being a lap down and winning races. That’s the fun of INDYCAR.”
Now coming off of a top 5 for him, then the race prior Rinus VeeKay scoring the pole and leading the most laps in a podium effort and now heading to a race that Daly led the most laps in last year, does he feel the momentum starting to build?
“I think the team has done a great job this year,” said Daly. “We know we had some areas where we wanted to improve, and I think we have. Obviously, the old big one is next, and I’m very excited about that one, honestly.
“This was a day that helps us for sure. There’s a lot of momentum. And, honestly, it’s a shame because all of our BitNile folks are not here this weekend, so we might have to ban them from the rest of the races, I don’t know, because we had a wildly good day today. Hugely thankful for their support. Honestly, Chevrolet right now is doing a great job and really proud to be under that banner as well.”
Honda ended Chevy’s early reign to the season by not only picking up their 1st win total in the column in 2022 but they went 1-2 at that.
Team Penske may be 0-for-2 after starting off the season 3-0 but as we head to the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500, they sit 1-3-4 in points. That wasn’t expected with how much of the day went with Will Power dropping early from the pole, Josef Newgarden crashing (25th) and Scott McLaughlin spinning on a late race restart to drop him to 18th still has the trio in a great place heading to a race that they so desperately want to win.
See ever since Roger Penske received the keys to these hallowed grounds, they’re 0-2 in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. That’s something that doesn’t sit well with “The Captain.” For a man that’s devoted his life to this place, his parking space is number “18” here in the shadows of the pagoda.
Everyone else’s parking spot is their initials. Not Penske’s. His is the number that he’s won here in the Indianapolis 500. When he took over as the owner of the property, he had won here for 2 straight years. Literally. Swept the road course and ‘500 in each of the last 2 May’s. He’s not won since.
They devoted a lot of time between the 2020 and 2021 seasons on Indy improvement. It didn’t work. They didn’t look any better than they did last May than they did in Aug. 2020 here. So, even more effort went into preparation from 2021 to 2022.
We’re ready now for the big event. They have 3 of the top 4 in points. With double points available, can they stay there? If so, it likely means 1 of them is celebrating here in 15 days…
After O’Ward Got Into Championship Fight, Herta Joins The Fray Next
Pato O’Ward had found the fountain of youth again. While the 22 year old driver isn’t old by any stretch of an imagination, an on going contract dispute saga left him feeling down and the results even worse. It affected the start of his season and cost him results. Now that his future seems to be secured again with Arrow McLaren SP, one that both he and the team feel strongly about, the results have come back around by virtue of that.
O’Ward, finished 5th on the streets of Long Beach. He turned that into a front row starting spot and a win in the last race at the Barber Motorsports Park. He now entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in the hunt for the championship. A place reserved for someone as talented as him.
A happy O’Ward is a dangerous O’Ward to the field. 2 straight top 5 finishes, gaining 25 points in 1 weekend and going from 13th in points to 5th in 2 races.
He was most fearful of losing that momentum her this weekend instead. Indy’s road course is a place that hasn’t always been kind to him. Even with a pole last year in the August race, he still didn’t take any podium hardware home with him.
He was determined not to allow that to happen again, so while he started 5th, he crossed the Yard of Bricks on Lap 1 in the lead. O’Ward drove like a mad man and one that was well on his way to an Indy triumph.
Instead it was his former teammate who’s now found that new championship life. O’Ward pit for slicks a lap too late which allowed Colton Herta to take over the top spot and now the race for the win. O’Ward was there but being on the wrong strategy in the end with staying on slicks and all but 2 other drivers not cost him the race.
He spun. He had to pit. He limped home 17th. It was a nice effort but costly decision. O’Ward went from 30 points back entering the day to 44 out leaving it.
The thing is, it wasn’t just O’Ward with troubles. Josef Newgarden crashed out and finished 25th. Points leader entering the day in Alex Palou had early race troubles and finished 18th. Scott McLaughlin was 20th. Scott Dixon started a disappointing 21st and finished 10th.
That left the door open for Herta and he wasn’t about to give this up. The youngster went from 65 points down in 11th place in points to 38 points arrears in 5th. He’s now back in the fight for a title that he very well can still win.
No one denies Herta’s talents. It’s why he’s a man on the F1 radar. It’s just can he turn good finishes into great ones and when he’s destined for a great finish, actually do just that, finish.
Being 38 points out and him having won 3 of the last 7 races if you date back to last season makes him a prime candidate to do some damage when this thing is all said and done. He and O’Ward are the lone drivers fighting amongst a bunch of Penske and Ganassi drivers gunning for a title now. Literally. 6 of the top 8 in points belong to Penske and Ganassi. Each organization has combined to win 13 of the last 14 series titles including 9 straight. Herta, is hoping to help Andretti end that reign.
The last non Penske-Ganassi team to win the title? Andretti Autosport. Between the trio now, they’ve won every INDYCAR title since 2003. I think we’re down to another “Big 3” fight.