Let’s make this point clear: Simon Pagenaud is not complaining about winning the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
But what Team Penske’s driver described moments after winning last weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto confirmed that, yes, the enormous spotlight bestowed on 500 winners took an emotional and physical toll on him. All of the well-intended well-wishes, media interviews and travel obligations accompanying the victory contributed to a personal lull as the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series moved on from the month of May. Paganeud’s average finish in the four June races was 9.5, his qualifying average 12.0.
It took several weeks, but Pagenaud believes he has driving stride back. If that’s true, the other championship contenders should beware. Pagenaud is now only 39 points out of the lead with six races remaining. He trails only teammate Josef Newgarden and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
“It’s just I had to rest, and I had to gather myself after this big storm that happened to me after winning Indy,” Pagenaud said. “I reorganized my (personal) team – Team Pagenaud – which is about optimizing time so I can have time focusing on racing. That’s what we’re (doing); it seems to be working.
Also helping were a pair of trips, one to the western part of North Carolina, where Will Behrends sculps the look of the 500-winning driver for placement on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy. Following that, Pagenaud traveled to France to celebrate the victory with friends.
“I think that was definitely a closure to go to France and realize the impact of the biggest race in the world,” he said. “I had no idea the impact it was going to have in France. It was quite incredible.”
When the calendar turned to July and its stretch of three races – last weekend in Toronto, this weekend’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway and next weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – Pagenaud put the Indy euphoria aside to focus on winning a second NTT IndyCar Series championship. His first title came in 2016. He desperately wants another.
“Yeah, I’m definitely switched to championship mode, even though I’m a happy person,” Pagenaud said with a smile.
Pagenaud will be seeking his first Iowa victory, although he won the pole for the 2016 race. He finished eighth last year.
The event in Newton, Iowa, begins Friday with practices at 11 a.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET. NTT P1 Award qualifying is Friday at 2:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
All practices will be shown on the NBC Sports Gold app. The 300-lap race will air Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 209.