Alex Palou has never been a great oval racer. He’s been solid, but not great. However, he showed on Sunday afternoon at the Texas Motor Speedway, that he may very well win an oval race before the season concludes. Even with 25 lap older tires among half of the cars on the lead lap at the end and 38 laps older than the other two vying for the victory, Palou still held off five of those lead lap cars to finish with a strong third place result in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda in Sunday’s PPG 375.
That’s something that he’s not taking lightly.
“Yeah, I’m super happy. Really, really happy as if I won today,” said Palou. “Honestly, I did not expect that. It’s a place that I struggled a lot in the past. But yesterday I felt confident, and also today as the race started, like the car was good.
“Honestly, I don’t think we had the speed that the 5 and the 2 had. I still tried. I knew that they had little bit better tires and that they had a bit more speed.
“It was a hell of a race. I had a lot of fun with most of the drivers, not with everybody.”
Palou was a lap down coming to his third pit stop, but was helped by that Lap 179 caution for Felix Rosenqvist. That put him back on the lead lap. They’d pit under that caution on Lap 188. They’d not hit pit road again after.
That could have been a problem and if this race went green for the rest of the way, may have been. However, three cautions in the final 29 laps helped that pit strategy not catch him out with older tires.
Palou still battled for the lead and even was leading towards the end. He’d instead net his 16th career podium in his 49th INDYCAR start. What’s wild is, this was also his 18th career top five finish, which goes to show when he’s in the top five, he’s on the podium more times than not with all but two of his top five finishes having been on a podium.
But, what I’m more impressed with is to see him nearly win on an oval.
Palou was runner-up in the 2021 Indy 500 to go along with a pair of top seven’s at Texas in 2021. However, he was seventh again here a year ago and ninth in Indy. He’s a top 10 driver, but not one that can consistently win at.
He was 13th and 9th in practice and started 7th. It shows that like on street courses, his improvement was eye opening and could make him a legitimate contender for a second title in three years.