Today’s question: What was Alex Palou’s championship moment of 2023?
Curt Cavin: My thoughts first went to the image of Palou’s car sitting awkwardly against the inside wall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after pit road contact from Rinus VeeKay in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and how he responded from there. The ensuing pit stop for repairs put him 28th of 33 cars on Lap 98, but he soldiered on, driving to fourth place in the second half of the race. That determination gained him 31 points in what amounts to the launching portion to the second half of the season. But the more I think about it, I have to select how he responded coming out of Indy: He won the next three races, and no one was close to him. He won the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear from the pole, and he led 56 percent of the laps in winning that Detroit race, the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR and the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2023 Accord Hybrid. Palou exited the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a 110-point lead, and that was that.
Paul Kelly: Curt makes a very compelling case for Palou’s June and early July surge putting the title out of reach. But I’m taking a different tack. Palou had three championship moments this season – the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at World Wide Technology Raceway. See a common thread there? Yup, all ovals. Palou has never won an oval race, and his first career oval NTT P1 Award came this year at the Indy 500. While he has become a solid oval racer, it’s not his forte. And it just so happens the two drivers who chased him most vigorously in the standings this season, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, are terrific oval racers, especially current ovalmeister Newgarden. So, Palou needed to avoid calamity on circle tracks and limit damage, and that’s exactly what he did. His recovery from the early pit collision with Rinus VeeKay at Indy, which was not Palou’s fault, to finish fourth was a bellweather. Palou finished eighth and third at the Iowa doubleheader and seventh at WWTR. Five wins on road and street courses and no finishes worse than eighth all season delivered Palou his second Astor Challenge Cup in three years as series champion, but his steady, composed performance in the last four oval races of the season was arguably just as pivotal.