MADISON, Illinois -- The question was greeted with a piercing glare that didn’t hide anger.
“How did you see what turned out to be the move of the race?” the questioner asked Simon Pagenaud.
“I think if it wasn't me, he would be in the fence with somebody else,” Pagenaud said. “That's what I've got to say.”
The answer brought to the surface an underlying question: Did Josef Newgarden’s bump pass of his teammate late in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline create a rift at Team Penske, or will it all blow over and be forgotten with time?
In the immediate minutes after it happened, the answer was apparent. The pass was considered a breach of racing etiquette by one teammate, a bold racing move by the other teammate.
“It's terrible for the team,” Pagenaud said. “That's the kind of thing that's disappointing. At the moment, it's not something I really want to talk about with him. But it will come to a conclusion, I'm sure.”
Here’s how it went down. Newgarden was pursuing his teammate for the lead on the 218th lap of the 248-lap race at Gateway Motorsports Park. As the two entered Turn 1, Newgarden got the nose of his car underneath Pagenaud’s car. Contact resulted, Pagenaud’s car lost grip and slid up the track, and Newgarden took a lead he held to the finish.
His teammate dropped back to third behind Scott Dixon, who took advantage of Pagenaud’s loss of momentum to slip past as well. Unhappy about the circumstances that put him there, Pagenaud did something rare for a Penske driver: He criticized his teammate publicly.
“He doesn't have respect for me,” Pagenaud said of Newgarden, who is leading the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with two races left in the 2017 season. Pagenaud, the 2016 champion, is fourth, 43 points behind.
From his perspective, Newgarden didn’t see anything wrong with the pass. He saw an opening inside, was aware that Pagenaud knew he was there, and expected him to offer more space.
“It was kind of just in the moment,” Newgarden said. “I honestly thought Simon was going to lift and move over once I was there, and he didn't. So then it was a matter of trying to sort it out when we were getting into the corner.”
After watching the incident unfold in front of him, Dixon tried to recall if he’d ever had close calls with teammates.
“Dario (Franchitti) and I had some pretty close situations, but it never turned into anything too crazy,” said Dixon, who’s second behind Newgarden in the standings heading to Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International. “So did Dan (Wheldon) and I, actually. Yeah, I don't know. It's a tough situation. Everybody is here to race to win. High-risk game, man.”
When asked if Newgarden should’ve been penalized, Pagenaud stopped short.
“No, because there's no crash,” Pagenaud said. “It's more … a driver rule. It's how much you respect each other when you think the gap is open enough to risk it on an oval. I'm not talking road course. I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass, but we're not on a road course. There, we are going 40, 50 miles an hour (in a tight corner). Here, we're doing 190. ... It's a completely different story.”
Newgarden said he won’t treat Pagenaud differently despite the angry reaction.
“I'll approach him the same,” Newgarden said. “He knows we're racing. He knows we're going to race in the future. We're going to race for many years. This isn't the first time we'll battle, I'm sure. Hopefully he knows next time it's getting a little tight in the corner, give me a little more room.
“But I think he's one of the world-class drivers that you race against. That's what made that work. I can trust him to not lose the race car and hold his own into the corner. That's really what made the move work. Any other guy, he might not have had the ability to make it work. Simon has that and even more, so he's one of the best drivers in the world to go head-to-head with.”
Whether the tension lingers – or goes public again – remains to be seen.
“Obviously, I wanted to win,” Pagenaud said. “We all want to win. Sometimes, you know, it is what it is.”
The INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen on the 3.37-mile permanent road course at Watkins Glen features three 45-minute practices (starting at 10:15 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. ET Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday), ahead of Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying at 3 p.m. Saturday. All the sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
The race airs live at 1 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.