Team Chevy Dominates IndyCar Return to Phoenix

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16C_9036-1Simon Pagenaud finished in the runner-up position at Phoenix International Speedway on April 2nd, the same result he landed in the season opener at St. Petersburg just three weeks ago. This marks his best career finish on an oval track and also boosts him into the points lead. “I just want to say… how much of a team sport this is. The guys have been tremendous since St. Pete, and at the end of the day we were able to save a bit of fuel, the one stint before the end, and they did a magic pit stop so they put me back in the front. Once you’re in the front with clean air, it’s a lot easier and the car was spot on. I was quite content with second. Like I said, we’re building a championship contention, so pretty happy tonight.”

There is something to be said for consistently high results – and Pagenaud is saying it by bringing his No. 22 Team Penske Chevy from P10 to the podium in Phoenix. He looks to continue that battle for the front of the field and solid results at the next track – the streets of Long Beach on April 17th – a track where Pagenaud has never finished worse than P8. He is strong in Southern California, so keep an eye on him in 2 weeks when we race in the sunshine state!

16C_6350-1Another driver that knows a little something about consistency is Scott Dixon, who earned his 39th career win when he led the field to the checkered flag Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway. This ties him on the All-Time IndyCar wins list, with the legendary Al Unser, Jr. Dixon, humble as ever reacted to his total wins stating,  “It’s mind-boggling. I love doing what I do. I just feel privileged and lucky to one, be driving in INDYCAR and two, for a team like Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s amazing to be part of this team.” The win in Phoenix also breaks another IndyCar record because Dixon has now won a race in 12 consecutive seasons – more than any other driver in history.

Dixon discussed how this is the first win for Chip Ganassi Racing at this track (through all series that race at Phoenix), crediting his crew with the victory, “It was definitely one of the toughest races on these short ovals. Team Target did an amazing job.” Saturday’s victory marks the 101st for Ganassi in IndyCar.

Ed Carpenter Racing had a rollercoaster of a weekend. Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden paced the field in the first practice on Friday and then qualified P5 and P7 respectively. Lap 50 of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix saw the first caution of the race when Dale Coyne Racing driver Luca Filippi spun the No. 19 in Turn 2 but avoided any kind of contact. The pits opened 2 laps later and that’s when the downhill issues started for Newgarden. His crew had issues with fueling the No. 21 Chevy and he ended up with a much longer pit stop than anticipated.

16C_7069Fast forward to Lap 134 and see Kimball make slight contact with Newgarden. The incident led to Kimball spinning and ending up in the apron with an avoidable contact call that he would serve with a drive-thru penalty. Newgarden was able to pit under the caution with open pits and change his damaged front wing. He came back for tires and fuel under green on Lap 195 but at the same time, his teammate and owner, Ed Carpenter went hard into the wall at Turn 4. The damage was too great and time too minimal to re-enter the race and this marked the end of Carpenters day.

With 40 to go on the restart, Newgarden made a move to the inside to pass Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 11 KVSH Racing Chevy, and ended up going under the yellow line to get the position. This is  a maneuver that Tony Kanaan does not condone and would have his say about after the race with NBCSN, becuase the same situation happened between him and Newgarden, with Kanaan ultimately winning the position battle.

What was interesting was that NBCSN showed Kanaan the incident from two perspectives: The overhead shot from inside the track and then from Newgarden’s on-board. Kanaan’s difference in reaction is a perfect example of how a single incident can be interpreted very differently based on the camera angle and perspective.

When Kanaan saw the incident in question between him and Newgarden from the overhead track camera, he kind of gritted his teeth and said he owed Newgarden an apology. But, when shown the incident from the on-board he immediately noted that Newgarden went below the yellow line, which is what divides the track and stated that he (Kanaan) held his line. Kanaan admitted openly that had he moved down and not maintained his line, he would have definitely been issued a penalty. He concluded, “It was tough racing.” Kanaan finished in fourth, just missing the podium.

Newgarden agreed with Kanaan’s sentiment, and after facing the adversity he did throughout the contest, he impressively managed a P6 finish admitting, “Yeah, it’s a tough race (physically). Not the weekend we wanted with the Fuzzy’s crew. We had two really good cars. We couldn’t quite get it done today. Sixth was a good salvage position, I think; but we obviously wanted a little bit more. So, this was a tough weekend for us.”

Chevy is obviously at an advantage going into Round 3 of the IndyCar season, but as mentioned in my earlier column, Honda may be down but they are certainly not out. I will be on site for the next round in California and I look forward to bringing you info straight from the track. If you have questions for any drivers or owners, please submit them by going here and I will do my best to get as many of them answered as possible.

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The next Verizon IndyCar Series race will take place on the streets of Long Beach, California. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will host IndyCar for the 42nd time over the weekend of April 15 – 17. The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 17th.

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Photos by Chris Owens c/o IndyCar