Palou wins IndyCar race at PIR
Alex Palou had an unforgettable weekend in Portland.
Palou, piloting the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing, crashed in practice and then qualified first and survived a first-turn emergency runoff at the Festival Curves to power to victory Sunday in the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway.
A couple late cautions made it close between Palou and second-place Alexander Rossi (1.2895 seconds behind) and third-place Scott Dixon. But, Palou wouldn't be overcome in the final 18-lap sprint to the finish of the 110-lap race on the 1.964-mile road course.
It was the third win of Palou's IndyCar Series season and career. The 24-year-old Spaniard took back the series lead with 477 points, 25 ahead of Arrow McLaren SP's Pato O'Ward, who fall back with subpar qualifying and racing, and 34 ahead of Team Penske's Josef Newgarden. Ganassi Racing's Dixon, the six-time IndyCar Series champ, still has an opportunity for his seventh title with two IndyCar races left — Laguna Seca Raceway at Monterey, California, and Long Beach, California street course — at 49 points back.
Both Palou and Dixon had to go back into the pack, per IndyCar off-track rule, after their first-turn incident that left them in the emergency run-off area, even though it had been caused by Felix Rosenqvist's nudge of Dixon.
But, Palou persevered as teams took different two- and three-pit race strategies and navigated cautions.
Palou pitted for tires at the start of lap 80, and easily exited ahead of Rossi, and cruised to the win, despite being slowed twice by cautions.
Palou, who was coming off consecutive DNFs (did not finish) on the Indianapolis road course and Madison, Illinois oval, said it was an interesting weekend, with the crash and first-ever IndyCar pole, and not the best way to start Sunday's race.
"You avoid an accident and they put you in the back, but we kept our heads down," Palou said in a post-race TV interview, before hugging team owner Chip Ganassi. "I cannot believe it, the guys made it happen, gave me the numbers and we just followed it — strategy was amazing.
"I don't care that much about points (right now), the race we did was amazing, the guys, strategy, pit stops, everything, the bad luck we had. I'm proud about that."
Said Dixon: "The call to put us at the back was interesting, but it worked out for us. Just a weird start to the day, I'm thankful that it ended up paying off for us."
Andretti Autosports' Rossi, a former Indianapolis 500 winner, had a podium finish, a highlight in a season in which he entered the Portland race 12th in points. It was his first podium finish of the season. He qualified second.
"It was a big fight, for sure," he said. "(Palou) did a good job, he didn't make any mistakes."
O'Ward, who qualified seventh, had consistent struggles with power on the main straightaway.
Graham Rahal had an early fuel conservation strategy and led laps, but he fall back upon pit cycles and finished 10th.
Jimmie Johnson, the Ganassi driver and former NASCAR Cup seven-time champion, had a strong race and finished 20th.
Jack Harvey was fourth at Portland, just head of Newgarden.
Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar Series champ, was steady and left Portland in contention for the series championship.
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