Paddock Buzz: Palou Sends Message with Smashing Victory – INDYCAR
It literally has been years since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has seen a drive as dominant as the one Alex Palou delivered Sunday in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
2021 series champion Palou not only showed why Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren Racing are in a legal fight for his services next season, but he put the entire field on notice for 2023.
If Palou performs as he did Sunday – he won by 30.3812 seconds – watch out.
“We struggled a bit in some races, especially the last couple of races,” said Palou, who even overcame a six-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after qualifying Saturday and started 11th. “Today was awesome. An awesome job by the team; strategy was on point, and it’s good to finish a season with a win.”
The win was his first since last year’s penultimate race at Portland International Raceway, a span of 18 races. The 25-year-old Spaniard now has four career series wins.
Palou offered no insight as to where he drives next season — it’s likely he doesn’t know – but this victory was sweet. He took the lead on Lap 16 and pulled away from there, leading 67 of the final 80 laps. Yes, Josef Newgarden had a fast car in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, but he was no match for the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Entering the finale, the combined margin of victory for the season was 26.161 seconds. Palou smashed that in a single race.
The last similar series beatdown was by Alexander Rossi in the 2019 race at Road America. He won that race by 28.4391 seconds.
Newgarden’s Gallant Effort Falls Short
The mistake of the weekend happened in the first round of qualifying, but Newgarden did his best to make amends for it.
Newgarden and Team Penske used an excellent four-stop strategy and the benefit of having an additional set of new Firestone Firehawk tires to climb from 25th on the grid to finish second. But despite winning a series-leading five races in 2022, Newgarden finished 16 points short of capturing his third series title.
“I hate to say it, but in a lot of ways it’s been a really tough year,” he said. “So, in a lot of ways it’s going to be a welcome offseason. Mentally it’s been a taxing season. We’ve had a lot of highs, but we’ve had a lot of lows. To just ride the roller coaster this year has brought me to a breaking point at a couple points in the year.
“But ultimately, I’m proud of the team. This is a big day for everybody to win the championship. Huge congrats to Will and the entire team. This is an effort by everybody, whether it’s the 2 car or the 12 or the 3. We all take a lot of pride in it. All these crew members work on every single car.
“The ultimate goal is to win a championship for Team Penske, and we did that.”
Newgarden called hitting a deterrent at the top of the Corkscrew in qualifying, which led to a spin and a red flag that ended his session, “a heartache.”
“We came back, we fought, we nearly got there,” he said. “I’m proud of the effort.”
McLaughlin Does His Job
While the cameras and the attention …….
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