Title Push Still in High Gear for Palou despite Pit Miscue

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Pato O'Ward Alex Palou

One second can make a big difference in a competitive NTT INDYCAR SERIES race.

That small amount of time – plus an additional tenth of a second – was only part of what the reigning series champion lost on his final pit stop Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The combination of seconds not only cost him the lead of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid, it contributed to him losing the victory.

As Palou returned to the track following that slower-than-normal stop, Pato O’Ward swept past on the outside, grabbing the lead that had been Palou’s nearly exclusively to that point.

“(I) just tried to engage first gear too early,” Palou said of the hiccup after the fuel hose was disengaged and the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was lowered to the surface ready for takeoff. “You cannot engage first gear when the fueler is in, so, yeah, I tried and got denied. Then when I could have put it in it was like, I don’t know, a half-second or one-second (delay).

“Yeah, totally my fault.”

Information collected by NTT DATA illustrated the total time lost on the pit exchange. Palou gave away 1.1 seconds in the pit box, then lost another half-second as his car wiggled leaving pit road. Already slow on his in-lap, the total time he lost to O’Ward was 2.431 seconds.

Palou tried valiantly to overcome the combined setback, but O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet was too strong in the closing segment. Palou drew to within three-tenths of a second of O’Ward on a couple of occasions, but he never had a proper chance to regain the lead on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile natural terrain road course.

O’Ward held on for his second win of the season. Their separation at the finish was .4993 of a second.

Palou settled for what could have been. A win would have been his third of the season and the second in a row in this event. Regardless, he has a comfortable lead in the standings heading to this weekend’s Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. Palou leads Team Penske’s Will Power by 48 points.

The second-place finish was Palou’s eighth in the top five in nine races this season. Clearly, he wanted another race win.

“I was thinking about the race win today, not the points,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get happier tomorrow when I see the (standings). It was really a shame we couldn’t get this win that we wanted.”

Palou had started the 80-lap race on the pole after edging O’Ward in NTT P1 Award qualifying. The separation between their quickest laps was .0024 of a second, the closest among the first and second qualifiers on a road course or street circuit in the history of Firestone Fast Six qualifying, a format in use since 2005.

Palou led 53 of the race’s first 55 laps, pulling away from O’Ward, the No. 2 starter, by as much as 5.6 seconds. Beyond them was up to another 10 seconds to the drivers who exchanged third place.

O’Ward was in position to capitalize on Palou’s slow second pit stop because his car fared better in the second segment where both drivers used Firestone’s alternate (red) tire compound. Palou said he “just destroyed” his front tires in that stage of the race, allowing O’Ward to trim more than four seconds out of their separation.

“It was fun until it wasn’t as much (fun) for me,” Palou said. “I had a great car. (I) had a lot of fun in the race, (and I) ran really good in the first stint on primary (tires). I think we were really strong on the primaries, a bit more than we anticipated, and we were a bit worse than we anticipated on the alternates. Couldn’t really have the pace I wanted.

“I was trying to baby those tires, and they didn’t like me. I had big blisters on the front tires, and (O’Ward) started catching us. Then, our in-lap was pretty terrible. (I) had traffic, didn’t engage first gear as normal because I knew I had a crazy (bad) in-lap.

“It didn’t work out. We tried to get it back on the last stint. We were a bit close (but) not enough.”

Consolation came in the form of Power finishing 11th in the No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet. Scott Dixon, who arrived at Mid-Ohio just 32 points behind Palou’s pace-setting mark, had an electrical issue on the warmup lap and finished last in the 27-car field. Dixon lost 39 points to the leader and is fourth in the standings. O’Ward jumped to third, but he trails Palou by 70 points.

Palou could appreciate the enviable position he’s in despite not arriving in victory lane.

“It feels a bit worse when you know that you had the car and everything that you needed to win, but still, it was a good podium day,” he said.