FORT WORTH, Texas – Simon Pagenaud put together a stout runner-up result in the DXC Technology 600 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. The Team Penske driver is optimistic it is the first in a run of successful races that puts him back in the middle of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series title discussion.
The second-place finish was the best of the 2018 season for Pagenaud and first inside the top five this year for the 2016 series champion. He also led 26 laps in the No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet after leading a total of four laps in the first eight races.
“Yeah, it was a good night,” Pagenaud said after finishing 4.2943 seconds behind race winner Scott Dixon.
“We started really strong, really loved the car to start in the heat. As the temperature dropped, it got a little bit more difficult for us. We adjusted the car the wrong way as the temperature dropped (and) got pretty loose for us midway through.”
Despite the difficulty, Pagenaud rarely fell outside the top five during the 248-lap race aside from cycling through during green-flag pit stops. He passed James Hinchcliffe for second position on Lap 186 and held the spot over the last 63 laps to bring home his best finish since winning the 2017 season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
“It was a pretty fast-paced race as well, quite physical,” Pagenaud said of Texas. “I was just trying to manage the (car’s) balance. It was quite fun, actually. We had to keep up with the tires, keep up with the balance of the car throughout the stints and also relay to the pit what (changes) you needed for the next one.”
Pagenaud worked overtime in the last 35 laps, holding off numerous attempts by Alexander Rossi to pass him for second place. The 34-year-old Frenchman enjoyed the challenge and representing the race entitlement sponsor on his car.
“I had a lot of good battles, especially with Alexander at the end,” Pagenaud said. “(He) gave me some gray hair, the last 30 laps. But we managed to hold him off. That was really cool.
“Just to get a good result like this for us, I think the (No.) 22 team needed a break. I think we got one tonight. For DXC, it's pretty awesome. We had about 3,000 employees from DXC (attending the race), so it was good to have a good showing.”
Pagenaud also enjoyed racing on Texas’ high banks for the first time with the universal aero kit. With less downforce than its predecessor, the 2018 Indy car places more emphasis on driver skill and tire management ability on a track as demanding as TMS.
“I feel like the racing is always better than what we expect, especially tonight,” the 11-time Indy car race winner conceded. “I thought the racing was good. There was quite a bit of passes.
“The interesting parts were the pit sequence, a lot of good passes on new tires. To me, that was good racing. It was obviously difficult to make it work. It's not supposed to be easy.”
Last season, it was Pagenaud’s teammate, Josef Newgarden, who scored seven podiums over the final 11 races and climbed from seventh in the standings to claim his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship. With eight races to go this season, Pagenaud is looking for a similar stretch of his own. Saturday’s result moved him up to spots to eighth in the points and only 60 points behind Newgarden in fifth place.
“This year's been a tough start,” admitted Pagenaud, whose best previous finish this season was sixth at the Indianapolis 500. “There were a lot of unknowns, got taken out a few times, which hasn't happened in the past.
“Luck always turns around; it goes by cycle. Now, it's about executing. Myself, everybody on the team, really executed well (on Saturday). It's a good example of what we need to do every weekend.”
Pagenaud hopes to keep it going through the next race, the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America on June 24. He finished fourth there a year ago.
“It's racing,” he said. “We all go through ups and downs. It doesn't mean you're losing talent. Momentum is what keeps you going.”
Practice for the KOHLER Grand Prix begins on Friday, June 22. A same-day telecast of Verizon P1 Award qualifying airs at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday, June 23 on NBCSN. The 55-lap race on the historic permanent road course airs live at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, June 24 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.