NEWTON, Iowa (Friday, July 19, 2019) – Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud is on a drive to win his second NTT IndyCar Series championship, and he is doing so with excellence at various types of tracks.
A week after winning the Toronto street race from the pole, the winner of the large-oval Indianapolis 500 captured Friday’s NTT P1 Award at Iowa Speedway, the season’s smallest track. Pagenaud will lead a field of 22 cars to the green flag of Saturday’s Iowa 300 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 209).
The number of laps in Friday’s qualifying is half of what is required at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it’s no less intense. The laps are quick and busy, a 17-second blur over 7/8th of a mile. Only Pagenaud completed the two laps at an average speed in excess of 180 mph.
The ability to excel in different disciplines is what Pagenaud is most proud of.
“We do superspeedways, one-and-a-half-mile speedways, short ovals, street courses, road courses,” he said. “To win a championship here, you need to be really complete. It takes a lifetime to be a complete driver, let me tell you.
“But that’s what I enjoy about INDYCAR – the diversity in skills, in tracks. I think for the fans, they get everything they want to see throughout the season.”
Pagenaud’s 180.073 mph run produced his third pole of the season and second in four years at this venue. He will receive a bonus point for the effort, drawing him to 38 points of the series lead with six remaining races. As competitive as the series is, each point matters.
Pagenaud still trails teammate Josef Newgarden, the series points leader, and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who is four points behind Newgarden. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing is 86 points out of the top spot.
Team Penske drivers swept the top three qualifying positions with Will Power second (179.589 mph) and Newgarden third (179.449). It is the fifth consecutive year one of Roger Penske’s drivers have won the pole, with Power securing the previous two. But nothing will be a given during Saturday’s race, especially with the traffic typically created by short-oval racing. Last year there were 234 passes for position and 955 overall.
Team Penske’s only race win at Iowa came in 2017 with Helio Castroneves. Last year, Newgarden led 229 of the 300 laps, but was forced to settle for a fourth-place finish when three other drivers passed on a late chance to pit for new tires. No pole winner has won the Iowa race.
“You make one mistake (and) you can find yourself a lap behind (the leader),” Pagenaud said. “It’s important to stay on top of your game the whole time. It’s also important not to freak out. When the (car’s) balance goes away, sometimes you tend to get stressed out and gain a sense of urgency. That’s when you make more mistakes.
“Very important to keep your emotions in check, but also you have to be aggressive. You can’t go through traffic without being aggressive. It’s a very fine line. It’s very difficult to find that (proper) rhythm.”
Friday’s qualifying was held amid searing heat, with track temperatures pushing 135 degrees. Conditions figure to be better for the race, which should end a half-hour after official sunset. How competitors manage tires will help determine the outcome.
Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing qualified fourth (177.646 mph) with James Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports fifth (176.200 mph) and Rossi sixth (176.057 mph). Dixon qualified eighth at 175.725 mph.
Among the top title contenders, only Newgarden is a former race winner here.