By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Editor
MADISON, Ill. (AP) – Alex Palou stood in the dark infield watching a replay of the crash that knocked him out of the last oval event of the season and, as a result, swallowed the last of his advance in the IndyCar ranking.
The rest of the peloton roared without him on Saturday night at the World Wide Technology Raceway after Palou was caught in a three-car crash sparked by another sketchy restart.
Sloppy races and sloppy restarts have been a problem all season in IndyCar – remember, future race winner Marcus Ericsson rode Sébastien Bourdais before the peloton even reached the restart line in Nashville. earlier this month – and a rash of impatient and overly aggressive driving muddied the fight for the championship.
“We’ve had a pretty erratic and pretty crazy ride this season, but it seems to go unnoticed,” said Scott Dixon, the reigning six-time IndyCar champion, after being recovered from the crash with his teammate Palou.
Race winner Josef Newgarden confirmed: “I think people drive aggressively these days. You almost have to match it to some extent, because if you don’t you get run over. “
And Palou, helpless outside the clinic as Pato O’Ward passed him for the IndyCar points lead, simply wondered why there was so much impatience with nearly 200 laps to go. “It’s so early. I mean, if it’s the last lap of the race, I can understand. But it’s still early.
The risky race turned the championship race upside down and placed O’Ward, a 22-year-old Mexican with Formula 1 aspirations, at the top of the IndyCar rankings. O’Ward in two weeks went from 42 points to 10 points on Palou, a 24-year-old Spaniard who led after eight of 13 innings.
Palou was last beaten to the top of the standings six races ago, in June in Detroit, where an O’Ward victory briefly pushed him by just one point. There is no favorite in the championship race heading for a three-week West Coast swing close to the season, and just 60 points separate O’Ward from Ericsson in fifth.
Newgarden’s victory took him from fifth to third and just 22 points behind, while Dixon dropped nine more points to fall 43 points behind.
O’Ward, benefactor of the bold – dangerous? – driving, admitted to playing it safe with calculated movements on Saturday night. He finished second behind Newgarden and was content to follow the better car. O’Ward’s only chance of winning would have been if Newgarden had been slowed down by overtaking cars “but they were all very respectful. It is a change.
And O’Ward appeared to exonerate Rinus VeeKay from his role in the Palou and Dixon crash, noting that reboots have been a mess this season. In fact, O’Ward believed the blame lay on VeeKay, possibly Alexander Rossi, for creating an almost three-wide pack before the turn.
“I guess he’s not looking in his left mirror here. He just turned, so I had to hit the brakes to not fall, ”said O’Ward. “I guess that’s what caused the control behind for sure. For me it was sudden and quite aggressive, yes.
He argued that some on the pitch had run badly because “I had a lot to lose and they know it. They are simply taking advantage of their position in the championship.
Dixon thinks it’s about time IndyCar Race Control got involved and, well, controls erratic drivers. There is so much at stake and it feels unfair when careless and sloppy decisions bring riders together trying to race the right way.
Newgarden admitted after Saturday night’s victory that it was hard to bite your tongue and not check the names of the worst offenders. But he said it’s up to individual competitors to learn the nuances of their rivals and determine who they’re safe to race with.
“We all have our feelings about who we think isn’t the right person to be around or who we think is more aggressive than others. It’s just part of the learning process, trying to understand your competition, ”he said. “It’s like that in any series. Everyone knows or has an opinion on who they think is probably not safe on the track. “
There is a so-called hierarchy in NASCAR in which veterans will ruthlessly denounce dangerous driving, lack of etiquette, and rejection of the gentleman’s agreement. Newgarden doesn’t think IndyCar has a similar one.
“I don’t think there is a pecking order when it comes to veterans and who to talk to; I don’t think young people really care anyway, ”he said.
So it’s about self-control and figuring out how to fly each pilot individually, he said.
“You end up causing enough trouble in a row for an individual, it’s going to turn into a bad situation,” Newgarden said.
O’Ward thinks it’s drier and pilots need to stop playing games.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard to understand. Dude, stay on a throttle, then go. It’s so simple, ”O’Ward said. “You see the first (car) jump a bit, let’s go. Otherwise, you are just eaten. They stop, you stop, you rely on the guys behind to stop and that just creates havoc.
More AP auto races: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.