Simon Pagenaud wins IndyCar race at Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Simon Pagenaud appeared to be on cruise control after taking a big lead when a caution flag caught the other leaders on pit road in the Verizon IndyCar race Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.
The Frenchman had a different view from the cockpit as he closed in on his first oval victory.
"Those were the longest 50 laps of my life," Pagenaud said. "I have a button on my wheel that tells me how many laps were left. I kept pressing it. It was stressful. The car was phenomenal."
The defending series champion grabbed the lead when Team Penske teammate Will Power pitted on the 137th lap, and the caution came out seconds later when Takuma Sato hit the wall in the fourth turn.
"We were a little bit lucky there with the caution," Pagenaud said, "But we were in that position because we were able to stretch it (fuel) out."
Pagenaud not only ended up with the lead, but had lapped cars between his Chevrolet and the other four lead-lap cars. Power cut Pagenaud's lead to 3 seconds with 40 laps to go before the winner pulled away to win by over 9 seconds in front of about only 7,000 fans at the mile oval.
Pagenaud took the season points lead with his 10th career victory. Penske drivers led all 250 laps — Pagenaud 116, pole-sitter Helio Castroneves 73, Power 59 and Josef Newgarden 2 — en route to the team's record-extending 189th series victory.
"This is incredible. This is my best win," Pagenaud said. "You need to be so strategic to win on an oval and today was the perfect day. I couldn't be any happier."
Power had his first podium finish of the year.
"We just got caught out by a yellow," the Australian said. "We just had a wait there. It made a bad race of it."
JR Hildebrand finished third in another Chevy for Ed Carpenter Racing, and Castroneves was fourth for Penske. Scott Dixon, the winner last year, was a lap down in fifth in Chip Ganassi Racing's Honda.
"Chevy had a leg up on us here and they showed that tonight," Dixon said. "We tried to keep our nose clean, but just didn't have anything for them tonight. "
Hildebrand returned after missing the Alabama event last week because of a broken left hand. He was hurt after late contact with Mikhail Aleshin in Long Beach, California.
"At the end, we might have had the best car on the track," Hildebrand said. "It's a great result heading into May."
Aleshin didn't finish a lap Saturday, losing control and spinning in the second turn to start a wreck that collected fellow Honda drivers Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal and Max Chilton.
"I turned and the rear just went sideways," Aleshin said.
Bourdais won the opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, and took the points lead into the night.
"I was just along for the ride. Nothing I could do," Bourdais said. "It's just a shame."
Bobby Santos won the USAC Silver Crown series' first race at the track since 2009.
"Coming back here was a huge deal," Santos said.
Santos, from Franklin, Massachusetts, started from the pole in the DJ Racing Chevrolet and took the lead for good with eight laps left in the 100-mile race. He has seven career victories.
"I had to work for this one," Santos said. "No time to sit down in the seat."
Two-time series champion Kody Swanson was second, followed by David Byrne and Davey Hamilton. Only six of the 17 cars were running at the finish.
Chris Windom missed a chance to become the second series driver to win four straight races, finishing 13th after blowing an engine. He drove Patrick Lawson's No. 2 car after cutting a tire and hitting the wall Friday in practice in his own Kazmark Racing machine.
Windom won the season-opening race April 2 at Terre Haute Action Track after closing last year with victories at Du Quoin State Fairgrounds and Eldora Speedway.
IndyCar heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the IndyCar Grand Prix road race May 13 and the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.