Note: The INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable is taking the opportunity of the summer break in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to analyze the first 10 races of the season and offer discussion and opinions about a variety of topics in the first half of the season. This multipart series will run regularly for the rest of July.
Today’s question: What was the best pass so far in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season?
Curt Cavin: I have to highlight two: Helio Castroneves to begin Lap 199 in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and Pato O’Ward’s series of passes to win the second race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. I thought Castroneves went to the lead too early, but he foresaw the traffic the leaders were going to catch, and he wanted no part of it. Brilliant strategy by the most experienced driver in the field and why he is a deserving member of Indy’s exclusive four-time winner’s club. As for O’Ward, go back and watch those final seven laps in Detroit as he drove from sixth to first, passing cars in two consecutive corners. The man was on a mission, showing why he is a star not only of the future but the present.
Zach Horrall: For me, it’s Rinus VeeKay going into Turn 7 during the GMR Grand Prix. It should surprise no one that VeeKay gets an award for best pass of the season. He’s good for at least one bold move per race! But specifically for this one, I’m talking Lap 41 when he exited pit lane and was trying to gain every inch and leap Romain Grosjean. Going down the backstraight, he drafted up to the side-by-side teammates of Alex Palou and Jimmie Johnson heading into the tight left-hand corner. Instead of taking it easy, the Dutchman split the difference, forcing himself between, and past, the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. It was arguably the move of the race that gave him his first career win, and it was damn impressive.
Paul Kelly: Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 2. It’s hard to pinpoint just one pass because O’Ward made enough daring moves in that race to fill a season-long highlight reel in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. He climbed from a disappointing starting spot of 16th to 10th in the opening five laps while racing on the Firestone alternate “red” tires. And he just kept passing cars around Belle Isle. As Curt said, O’Ward’s charge from fifth to first in the last seven laps was breathtaking. He passed Graham Rahal, Colton Herta and Alex Palou – all championship contenders – in one lap after the final restart. And when O’Ward blew past Josef Newgarden for the lead with less than three laps to go, O’Ward’s pace was so startling that Newgarden described it as: “He was coming like a freight train. What are you going to do? I just couldn’t do anything.” That’s quite the stamp of validation from a two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion. O’Ward was in a zone on that Sunday drive in Detroit, and nothing nor no one was going to stop him.