INDIANAPOLIS — Simon Pagenaud’s puppy love was on display in early January on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famed yard of bricks.
The 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion for Team Penske cradled Pistachio, an 8-month-old Maltese who will be competing in Sunday’s “Puppy Bowl XV” on the Animal Planet.
As they knelt on the bricks, Pagenaud made a promise.
“We’re going to win?” the Frenchman asked his furry new friend. “If you win the game, I’ll win Indy.”
Pagenaud has said the race he wants to win more than any other is the Indianapolis 500. He later added that the dog told him, “Deal.”
Pistachio has quite the back story on his road to the national spotlight. He was saved by the local Every Dog Counts Rescue after being born with a liver condition that required surgery.
“He came through it like a champ,” said Dr. Tara Harris, a Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health pediatrician who runs the rescue. “He’s recovered beautifully. He’s a happy little puppy now. He’s on a prescription diet, but other than that, you would never know.
“I’m helping families and dogs, and dogs are part of the family for most of us.”
And in addition to being adopted, Pistachio just might be a winner come Super Bowl Sunday.
“He’s a candidate for MVP,” Harris said of “Puppy Bowl XV,” which has already been filmed and will air Sunday as alternate lead-up programming to the football coverage. “We won’t know if he wins until the big day.”
Pistachio will be on Team Ruff for the 3 p.m. ET “kickoff” against Team Fluff as the puppies compete for the “Lombarky Trophy.” The Most Valuable Puppy award goes to the dog scoring the most touchdowns.
Pagenaud’s affinity for pooches is well known. Aside from having his own 2 1/2-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Norman, the driver has partnered with the Humane Society of Indianapolis to help find homes for dogs.
He introduced Hufflepuff, a 13-week-old Chow Chow, at IMS in May 2013, the fourth dog he fostered and found a permanent home.
“I do love dogs,” Pagenaud said. “For me, they bring me so much joy and they’re part of the family. It’s part of the job and part of being a good doggy dad, taking care of the others.
“We wish Pistachio good luck. He’s a beautiful, little dog. He’s got a great story, too. It’s always fun to see a dog and he’s a good, little dog.”
Although the frigid January temperatures when they met weren’t ideal, Pistachio snuggled right up to Pagenaud, who held the dog inside his jacket on their visit to the yard of bricks.
“I think he likes me,” Pagenaud said. “He gave me a little kiss. He was happy to be in my jacket.”
The photo opportunity probably didn’t sit well with Norman, though, who has his own Twitter account with more than 1,500 followers and is a visible sidekick to Pagenaud at NTT IndyCar Series races.
“He’s probably on social media looking at photos and despising me,” a smiling Pagenaud said. “He’s probably very upset. I’m not cheating on Norman, I just love dogs in general. Look at Pistachio. He loves the camera.”
Pagenaud will return to IMS to compete in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the 2.439-mile road course on Saturday, May 11 and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26. Tickets for all month of May events are available at IMS.com.