FORT WORTH, Texas – It was a deflating end to a promising evening for Simon Pagenaud in the NTT IndyCar Series race whose title sponsor was also emblazoned across Pagenaud’s car.
Pagenaud finished sixth Saturday night in the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, driving the No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.
The winner of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge two weeks before, Pagenaud started fifth at Texas and remained consistently near the front for a majority of the 248-lap race – though he never led a lap. He was still in fifth when Scott Dixon and Colton Herta collided in front of him while battling for second place on Lap 229. Pagenaud dodged the incident and moved into third place, the highest he ran all night on the 1.5-mile oval.
Poised for at least a podium finish if not a bid for the win, Pagenaud became a victim as the field bunched behind the race leader, Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, for the final restart on Lap 236. As some drivers mistimed the restart behind Newgarden, Graham Rahal ran into the back of Pagenaud’s car.
Fearful he had a tire puncture, Pagenaud drove conservatively and was passed by Rahal, Santino Ferrucci and Ryan Hunter-Reay before the checkered flag waved. Still, it marked the Frenchman’s fifth top-six finish in the last six races and kept him in the middle of the championship hunt.
“I'm just disappointed about the last restart,” Pagenaud said. “I got hit in the back by Graham, I guess, and I'm going to Turn 1 loose. I thought I had a puncture and I backed off, and it wasn't a puncture, so very disappointed.
“I don't know what else I could have done. It's just a succession of events that led me to think that I had a puncture, so a real bummer. I think with all that went on during the race, we had a top-three (finish in sight). We were going to be on the podium, so it would have been a good result, especially with Dixon out.
“It's not bad. It's just disappointing when you know you could have done better.”
To his credit, Rahal took ownership for the contact with Pagenaud.
“He did (get hit), there’s no doubt,” said Rahal, who finished third in the No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “The brake-checking from the leader was obscene. We were well past the start zone, yet the brake-checking persisted.
“We'd go, then bam, everybody is on the brakes. No doubt, I did touch (Pagenaud). Luckily, it was nose straight to the right rear, which didn't cut his tire or anything, I don't think.”
Pagenaud was optimistic coming into the weekend after finishing second and third the previous two years at Texas. But he admitted his car wasn’t as strong on Saturday.
“I couldn't really do much as soon as you would hit traffic,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion. “I personally got stuck behind back markers for (multiple) laps, so not much we could do there. I don't have an answer for you. Maybe we didn't have the right balance.”
Pagenaud and team owner Roger Penske were scheduled to visit the White House and President Donald Trump on Monday to be honored for the Indy 500 win. After that, Pagenaud has eight races remaining in the season to vie for his second season title. Pagenaud sits third in points, 48 behind Newgarden and 23 behind Alexander Rossi.
“We're halfway now,” Pagenaud said. “I think the strength of each (championship contender) has been shown. It's definitely the same kind of heads. You're going to see the same kind of guys in the top five, top six.
“It's obviously interesting to see who's strong right now. I'm pretty excited about the rest of the season. It's a shame (for Saturday’s result). I wanted to do better here because I usually do so well, but overall I think we're on a very good championship run.
“I'm definitely going to need to catch up a bit on Josef, but we're right there. It's nice to see the improvement we've made compared to last year.”
The next NTT IndyCar Series race is the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America, the four-mile permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, that’s a favorite of most drivers. Live coverage of the race starts at noon ET Sunday, June 23 on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.