Palou continues hot streak, extends his IndyCar points lead by winning at Road America
By STEVE MEGARGEE
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) Alex Palou started the weekend at Road America with a car-damaging crash and rallied to end it with his third victory in the last four IndyCar races.
That's how well things have been going for the Spaniard in his remarkable first half to the IndyCar season.
Palou built on his commanding lead in the points standings with a decisive victory Sunday. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won by 4.5610 seconds over Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden, Team Penske's winner at Road America last year.
“It was an amazing day for us,” Palou said.
Palou’s victory was the 250th overall team win for Chip Ganassi Racing
It's been amazing month, really.
Palou’s title follows victories on May 13 at the Indianapolis road course and June 4 at Detroit. The only race he hasn't won out of the last four was the Indy 500, where he finished fourth but had the pole position and dominated for much of the race until he was spun on pit road during routine stops.
He has a 74-point lead in the points standings over Ganassi teammate Marcus Ericsson. The last time anyone had this big of a lead eight races into the season was in 2020, when eventual series champion Scott Dixon owned a 117-point edge.
“I think we all need to be better if we want to catch the 10 car,” Newgarden said of Palou. “That’s just the reality of it.”
Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren was third, and Dixon of Ganassi was fourth. Colton Herta started from the pole and dominated but Andretti Autosport blew the strategy and Herta finished fifth.
Palou's victory didn't come easily.
He spun in a Saturday morning practice, hitting the tire barrier with the right side of his Honda. But after his team worked to rebuild his car later that day, Palou finished third in qualifying to put himself in position for another victory.
“We almost had no time to rebuild the car,” said Palou, who also won here in 2021. “They did. They not only got the car back on track, but it was fast.”
Palou is seeking his second IndyCar series title in three years after winning the crown in 2021. Will Power is the defending series champion.
Although Herta dominated, a late pit decision caused him to fade down the stretch.
Herta was in front when he went to pit road on the 40th lap, one lap before the rest of the lead group. Herta remained ahead of the competitors who pitted a lap later but had a much more precarious fuel situation.
That enabled Palou to gradually close the gap before finally overtaking him on the 49th of 55 laps on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn course.
Herta continued to fall back in the pack the rest of the way before settling for fifth place. He hasn’t won a race since May 2022 at the Indianapolis road course.
“It's frustrating,” Herta said. “We had the best car.”
Dixon’s fourth-place finish was remarkable considering what had happened a day earlier.
The six-time IndyCar Series champion was at fault in a crash with Power during a Saturday morning practice that severely damaged both their cars. An angry Power got out of his car, exchanged words with Dixon and shoved him in the chest.
Dixon’s car was damaged badly enough that he used an entirely different vehicle for qualifying later Saturday. He qualified 23rd in the 27-car field but worked his way up near the front of the pack.
The Power-Dixon crash caused one of five red flags during a Saturday morning practice on Road America's repaved surface, which created faster times but also made this track very slippery whenever drivers went a little off line. Power complained Saturday that “this track’s terrible when you go off it.”
But there weren't any major incidents Sunday during a race that featured 444 on-track passes, the most ever for an IndyCar race at this site. The results of Road America's first repaving since 1995 drew positive reviews after the race.
“There was a lot of unknowns going into the new surface on how it would race,” Newgarden said. “I think today, I don’t know how you could have asked for much better of a race.”
Palou believes all that passing might be a sign of things to come for this track.
“In terms of passing, I think it’s actually going to be even better next year because the track surface was still too new,” Palou said. “On the exiting or the outside of the corners, it was a bit slippery. I think we’re not going to have that next year, so it’s going to be even better racing.”
IndyCar heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a July 2 race at Lexington, Ohio. Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske won at Mid-Ohio last year.
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Updated June 18, 2023