Alex Palou wins 3rd straight IndyCar race with victory at Mid-Ohio
By DAVE SKRETTA
(AP) -- Alex Palou refused to acknowledge his dominance of IndyCar in the days leading up to Sunday's race at Mid-Ohio.
He found it hard to stick with that refrain after a third straight win.
Palou executed perfect strategy with a fast car to beat Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon by a wide margin, giving him four wins in his last five races and a massive lead in points as he chases a second title in three seasons.
Palou began his dominating run on the road course at Indianapolis, and he captured the pole in the Indy 500 and was in contention there until an issue on pit road led to a fourth-place finish. He followed with wins on the streets of Detroit and at Road America before giving the Ganassi team its record-tying 12th win at Mid-Ohio.
“I think maybe we’re starting to honestly,” Palou said of his dominance. “But it’s really tight. It’s about putting everything together. We’ve been able to do this quite often this year. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep it together. We haven’t been fastest in practice or qualifying, but we have been in the races and that’s where it matters.”
Dixon, the last driver to win three straight IndyCar races, finished second to move into second in the title chase - albeit 110 points back. Will Power was surprised to finish third because he lost track of where he was in the running order, while Christian Lundgaard finished fourth and Scott McLaughlin rounded out the top five.
“Second place is great, but unfortunately the man we’re chasing finished first,” said Dixon, the six-time series champion who opened the 2020 season with three straight wins. “But huge congrats to Alex and the 10 crew. They’re doing a hell of a job this year.”
Palou’s stiffest competition at the road course in Lexington, Ohio, came from pole sitter Colton Herta, who led after a yellow flag on the opening lap through the first round of pit stops in a race that otherwise went green the rest of the way.
Herta had trouble on his final stop, though, crossing himself up on entry. It appeared as if he tried to push the button for speed control and it failed to engage, but regardless, the pass-through penalty took him out of contention. He finished 11th.
Graham Rahal, who started alongside Herta on the front row, has struggled this season but was poised to have a big day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Then he also had a problem during a pit stop, where his left rear did not get on cleanly, and that cost him several seconds and ultimately relegated him to a seventh-place finish.
“We win as a team, we lose as a team. I thought the car should have been further forward today, but it’s a quick reminder we have to be better in every phase of the program,” said Rahal, who won at Mid-Ohio in 2015 and considers it his home track.
“Look,” he said, “I’m disappointed. That’s a fact. It’s going to sting to think about it over the next couple of weeks, but we just have to continue to improve in every aspect of the game, and that is what it is.”
Pato O’Ward was the biggest charger during a race that nearly went green-to-checkers. He spun in qualifying and had to start 25th, but his Arrow McLaren car picked its way through the field and wound up finishing eighth.
“We didn’t get help from anybody - no yellows, no nothing," O'Ward said, "and I kind of saw the leaders were struggling with the lappers a bit. I was like: ‘Dude, it’s not your day. Get out of the way.’ That has to be looked at by IndyCar.”
Several drivers took umbrage with rookie Benjamin Pedersen, who was not on the lead lap but refused to allow anybody to get around him cleanly. That included McLaughlin and Alexander Rossi, who wasted valuable time trapped behind him.
“Yeah, I just said he’s not going to make any friends if he holds people up,” said McLaughlin, who had words with Pedersen on pit road afterward. “He isn’t even in our race. He’s in a race of his own. But it is what it is.”
Marcus Ericsson, who began the day second in points, didn’t even make it through the first lap before a collision with Felix Rosenqvist sent him to the pits with damage. Rosenqvist appeared to give Ericsson plenty of room through one of the opening turns, but the Chip Ganassi Racing driver went wide and right over the right side of his Arrow McLaren.
“I just couldn’t get the car stopped and obviously ran into Felix,” Ericsson said. “I feel really bad for ruining Felix’s day. That was definitely not my intention and I feel bad for the crew. But that was definitely not my intention.”
Conor Daly was hanging around Mid-Ohio this weekend when he got a call from Meyer Shank Racing to drive for Simon Pagenaud, who was not cleared to race Sunday after a terrifying wreck the previous day. Pagenaud’s brakes failed him and he rolled seven times through a gravel trap, though he managed to climb from the car unharmed.
Daly, who parted ways with Ed Carpenter Racing a few weeks ago, started last on the 27-car grid and finished 20th.
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Updated July 2, 2023