By: Tanner Watkins
April 9, 2019 | 8:00 AM
The last 20 NTT IndyCar Series races have tested the mettle of former champion Simon Pagenaud.
Dating back to the 2018 season, the Team Penske driver has notched just two podium finishes in that run despite showing pace and prowess at multiple events between this year and last.
His two runner-up finishes came at Texas and Toronto in 2018 while showing well at last May’s Indianapolis 500, finishing sixth.
This year, the hard-luck No. 22 team has fought an uphill battle right from the start. At the season-opener in St. Petersburg, Pagenaud started 13th after a stunted qualifying session saw him unable to advance to round two. In a strong effort, Pagenaud fought from the mid-grid starting position to finish the race a respectable seventh.
At Circuit of the Americas, bad luck struck the Frenchman in qualifying once again as he was unable to complete a timed lap – thus resulting in an even worse grid spot of 22nd for the inaugural Austin, Texas race. Things didn’t go as well for Pagenaud in the March 24 race, fighting hard for track position throughout the 60-lap event only to be caught out by a late caution that shattered the team’s strategy.
Then you have this past weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. The central Alabama track has been a playground for Team Penske’s drivers since IndyCar’s first race there ten years ago.
For whatever reason, the storied organization struggled all through the weekend and failed to put a driver into the final round of qualifying – something that had not happened for half a decade.
In qualifications, Pagenaud just missed the cut to advance to round two – as did teammate Josef Newgarden – and would start the race 14th. In the race, Pagenaud was found in multiple battles during the 90-lap affair and hovered around
After finishing the day ninth, the 34-year-old was pleased with the performance of his team despite the challenges endured.
“It was actually pretty fun out there – a lot of passing, side-by-side racing and a lot of strategy going on,” said Pagenaud, currently 12th in the points standings. “The Menards Chevy was good today, but we weren’t able to start up front and we had to work really hard to try and make up ground.”
This weekend, the series shifts the the streets of Long Beach, California for the fourth and final round before the massive month of May kicks off. Pagenaud, a 2016 winner at the track with a total of five top-five finishes to his name, likes the momentum the No. 22 car has built through a trying first three rounds of the championship.
“We know we have the pace to win a race… I guess we have to be a little more patient,” added Pagenaud. “Our next race at Long Beach is one of my favorite tracks, and hopefully, we can get back on the podium there.”
To kick-start a potential run at the championship, a strong result at Long Beach would go a long way for the 2016 series champion with his prior success on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and double points on the line for the Indianapolis 500.
The pressure is on for Pagenaud and the No. 22 team, but there is no reason to believe they will crumble – they’ve faced tougher before.
Header image by Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR.