NEWTON, Iowa – Simon Pagenaud drove from last to first in 177 laps, then feathered the throttle on his final tank of fuel to win Friday night’s Iowa IndyCar 250 at Iowa Speedway.
Twenty-six laps of caution were enough for Pagenaud’s fuel strategy to work. He started last in the 23-car field when his Chevrolet engine did not start because of no fuel pressure during qualifying.
Once the race started, however, Pagenaud put pressure on the field. He had easily the fastest car in the early portions of the race as he made up 10 positions before pitting on lap 59.
Once in the lead, Pagenaud was told by Team Penske to “just make fuel. Make fuel and don’t stop.”
Pagenaud was able to race fast enough to stay in front and score his first win of the season.
“Wow,” Pagenaud said. “This place is tough. What a night. What a day for us. Amazing group effort from Team Penske after Road America. Qualifying was disheartening, but these guys never give up.
“The last 50 laps were a lot of tension. When (Scott) Dixon is chasing you, you have to hit the marks. The McLaren guys were fast. In the end, I had my hands full. It was an amazing team effort. I never give up. It was a pretty cool win on an oval. Indy will always be on top, but this one was cool, too.”
Pagenaud defeated Scott Dixon’s Honda by .4954 seconds.
“That was an awesome race for Pagenaud after the mess up they had in qualifying,” Dixon said. “Honda did a great job in fuel mileage and that allowed us to stay out. We had a dreadful car in qualifying. Unfortunately, we have to start in the back again tomorrow night.
“We have to take them when we can get them.”
Rookie Oliver Askew of Arrow McLaren SP was third followed by teammate Pato O’Ward.
“I wish you could see my smile right now,” Askew said with his facemask on. “If that yellow didn’t come out on the restart, we could have finished 1-2 with myself and Pato. It was one of the funnest races of my life.”
Defending winner Josef Newgarden’s Chevrolet rounded out the top five.
The race included two frightening crashes where the aeroscreen may have saved the drivers involved from serious injury.
The first was Team Penske’s Will Power, who lost a wheel and crashed into the wall on lap 144. The wheel nut was not tightened on his pit stop and eventually worked its way off the car. Once the wheel flew off, it hit the wall then leapfrogged over the front of Power’s head, which was enclosed in the aeroscreen.
“The front took off and the car went straight into the wall,” Power explained. “Not a good feeling. I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s so, so, so frustrating. Unbelievable. Fortunately, the guys will get it back together and have another shot tomorrow.
“Man, I can’t thank IndyCar enough for everything they have done with the aeroscreen and halo inside of the aeroscreen. It’s better than anything in any other series like it.”
The most serious crash came on lap 157 when the restart after Power’s crash was waved off. At the back of the field, Colton Herta was not told the restart had ben waved off and ran into the back of Rinus VeeKay’s Chevrolet.
That sent Herta’s Honda airborne, up and over the cockpit of VeeKay’s Chevrolet. The gearbox end of Herta’s Honda landed on top of the SAFER barrier and did not dig into the fence.
Herta and VeeKay were uninjured.
“It happened so fast, I couldn’t really tell what was going on,” Herta said. “I wasn’t told the restart was called off. I was told green. I wasn’t going to go by the lights. There you go, I guess everybody else got the message. I’m glad everyone is OK.
“I was lucky I didn’t get hit in the head. I went over Rinus and he looks OK in there. We had a cool strategy that could have put us in contention at the end.”
“It really sucks,” VeeKay said. “We were having an amazing race. This could have been a podium or maybe a win. I was smiling every lap. It sucks, but we have tomorrow to go for podium.
“I’m very happy with the safety. I stepped out. The Aeroscreen was destroyed. Thanks to IndyCar for the safety.”
Another 250-lap race is scheduled for Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Pagenaud will once again start last in the 23-car field.