IndyCar at Long Beach is normally a sentence that fills me with dread. Look, I get why it’s there and whatnot, but this track normally has a knack of producing some pretty drab racing. 30 laps into this one and I feared it was going the same way. But it actually played out really nicely, a great blend of strategy changing up the running order, and some intense tight racing.
First of all, Alex Palou is a freaking magician. He undercut all his rivals and ran some superb laps in open air, so much so he leapfrogged Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta after the first round of stops. Brilliant bit of driving that everyone seemingly missed in real time. It’s weird to talk about the underrated value of the reigning Champion like this, but it’s easy to forget just how damn good Alex Palou is.
It’s also weird to talk about Colton Herta… negatively. But with 30 laps to go, Herta locked up at the end of the back straight, and smashed into the outside wall. If this sounds like a familiar tale, it was almost a carbon copy to his crash at Nashville, a race he was leading comfortably and was fastest at all weekend long.
Now I know people get jumpy over just about anything that isn’t a glowing endorsement of IndyCar, but given Colton’s been making a LOT of noise over a McLaren F1 seat in his near future. If we’re evaluating Colton at the highest level of his series as a title contender (Which we really should given the amount the talent he’s shown), this just isn’t good enough.
It’s a lack of bottle. Wrecks like this one and at Nashville are the sort of crash that ruins title chances. Especially when you’ve got guys like Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou at the top of the standings who just don’t make those kind of mistakes. If Colton wants to take that final step towards Series Champion, it’s something he needs to take notice of because people have and will start putting two and two together.
On the other end of the scale though – Josef Newgarden. Man, he was brilliant. I re-watched the race this morning. I don’t think he ever had the fastest car on the day, or was ever on the optimal strategy. But his defensive driving under pressure was immense. I think he gave his main opponents of Palou and a late-charging Romain Grosjean on the Alternate tyres a total of two half-chances to win. Palou on hot tyres on pit exit had half a go into five and Josef used all of the track to counter. And Grosjean had a half go into six on the outside when Josef ran slightly wide. That was it. Josef weathered the storm never put himself in enough danger where the win was at risk.
Superb driving and now, if he wins any Road Course race between now and the end of the season, he makes an extra million bucks for him and the team. Did I mention he’s won three times at Barber, more than anyone else in the field?
Couple more notes – “King” Kyle Kirkwood in the Top 10 is a superb result for the Foyt team. Apologies for anyone in the UK watching if they believed the words that came from Sky’s commentator Tom Gaymor that Foyt was a good car because Takuma Sato won here once. Back in 2013. Hmm.
Can someone please tell Jimmie Johnson to get your hands off the wheel if you’re gonna wreck? Last thing we need a month out from the 500 is the big name star missing it through injury! (Glad he’s okay.)
And shoutout to Simon Pagenaud who we now discover has developed a second hobby. Being a Horticulturalist. I’ve never had to YouTube the Ground Force theme from the BBC until yesterday, but there’s a first time for everything I guess.