BY JIM MILLER WEEKLY INDYCAR WRITER
Saturday morning after getting pain shots in his lower back to numb the pain he rated “10 out of 10”, Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet) captured his sixth pole position of the season at The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Sunday, still battling his sore back, he and his team partner Will Power (No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) started the race 1 and 2, and ended it in the same order.
This was a day of season championship contenders going all-out to gain points. By Lap 15 Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing) saw his standings slip as he attempted a pass on the inside of Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) going through Turn 1 only to run up on the curb destroying his left front suspension. His crew ultimately replaced the suspension but came out 44 laps down and was done. Dixon now slips to fifth in the season championship standings.
As the yellow caution was out for Dixon the pits were busy except for a few who stayed out including Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Hawk Performance Team Penske Chevrolet) and Marco Andretti (No. 27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda). During the restart following this caution Castroneves who had rear pod damage ran off the track and had to pit to get a new rear wing assembly. Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) also had rear wing damage and needed a replacement. Both drivers reentered the race a lap down.
Montoya and Andretti pitted on Lap 27 handing the lead over to Mikhail Aleshin (No. 7 SMP Racing Honda) who then lead the race until Lap 40 when he took his second pit stop, handing the lead back to Pagenaud. Two laps later saw Pagenaud and Power in the pits with Power coming out ahead of Pagenaud. By Lap 45 Aleshin had built up a 9.9 second lead over Power looking like it was going to be his day.
The second full-field caution of the day came on Lap 61 when Jack Hawksworth (No. 41 ABC Supply Honda, AJ Foyt Racing) dropped his right tires off into the grass entering Turn and lost control sending him straight directly into the tire barrier. Hawksworth appeared shaken but was uninjured.
Aleshin brought the field into pit lane on Lap 62 but when waved clear to exit by his crew chief made contact with Newgarden who was entering his stall. Aleshin’s car caromed hard left damaging his front wing and hitting one of Montoya’s tire changers. The Penske crew member was checked and released from the infield care center. Aleshin was sent to the back of the pack for an unsafe pit release and given a drive-through penalty for hitting a crew member. He went on to finish a disappointing 17th after leading a race high 33 laps.
Power came out of the pits and slid into second place behind Conor Daly (No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda) who stayed out. The race restarted on Lap 66 with Daly extending his lead over others who were implementing a fuel conservation strategy.
With season points on the line Pagenaud and Power raced each other all out for second place, including banging wheels at one point. Pagenaud finally slid past Power coming out of Turn 13 to assume second place behind Daly. After the race Roger Penske was asked about his two drivers going at it so strongly. “Look, these guys both want it,” Penske said. “I guess that’s why they’re driving for us.”
Daly did his best to extend his lead before he pitted on Lap 84 to take on a splash of fuel, but ended up handing the lead to Pagenaud. Daly rejoined the race in eighth after the fuel nozzle got stuck extending his pit stop time.
Pagenaud went on for the final six laps to capture his fourth win of the season by 4.16 seconds over Power followed by Carlos Muñoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda) in third place. This was Power’s seventh top 5 finish this year. Pagenaud’s win extends his unofficial championship lead from 47 to now 58 points over Power with four races remaining.
Graham Rahal (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) came in fourth and James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) rounded out the top five.
After the race in the Winner’s Circle Pagenaud needed assistance in climbing out of his car. “I can’t feel anything right now so it’s all good,” said Pagenaud. “My back was fine all race, thanks to INDYCAR Medical.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series now takes a summer break before the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, August. 21.