Andretti Autosport has announced three-fourths of its driver lineup for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, with Romain Grosjean replacing Ryan Hunter-Reay. Meyer Shank Racing has confirmed that Jack Harvey will leave the team following Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and that Helio Castroneves will be one of its full-time drivers. Even Juncos Hollinger Racing has announced next year’s plans: Rookie Callum Ilott will drive its car.
Sure, there are additional driver dominoes to fall in this ever-expanding paddock, but the future of one of the sport’s champions is still to be revealed.
What happens with Simon Pagenaud, whose seven-year run with Team Penske is thought to be coming to an end? Neither he nor Team Penske have said to this point, and speculation has turned to him joining Castroneves in the program co-owned by Jim Meyer and Michael Shank.
Pagenaud joined Team Penske for the start of the 2015 season and has won 11 of his 15 career races with the organization, including the 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the 2016 race at Long Beach. The 37-year-old Frenchman won the series title in 2016, scoring five wins and eight poles, and finished second in the standings in 2017 and ‘19.
It’s interesting how situations in racing can change in a short period of time. In 2019, Pagenaud was believed to be without a contract for the next season when he swept the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the GMR Grand Prix and the “500” in a magical 16-day period to become one of only eight drivers to win Indy and a season title driving for Roger Penske.
Neither Pagenaud nor Team Penske have discussed what’s ahead for him, but he might be assured of returning had this year’s “500” been another lap longer. Castroneves, who won the race for Meyer Shank Racing, could see Pagenaud charging in his mirrors, and he said Pagenaud likely was the one to beat had there been another lap.
Instead, Pagenaud finished third, five-tenths of a second behind Castroneves and only a whisker behind Alex Palou. The 71 points that Pagenaud gained that weekend pushed him to fourth in the standings, only 11 points out of second place, but any thoughts of earning a second series championship have evaporated over the past nine races.
The fall to eighth in the standings is due to an average finish of 14.0 since the “500.” In those races, Pagenaud has not finished higher than eighth. Saturday’s qualifying effort matched two other efforts this season: On the streets of St. Petersburg in the second race of the year and at World Wide Technology Raceway in August.
Surprisingly, some of Pagenaud’s recent struggles have come from contact with teammates. Will Power was unsuccessful in a passing attempt in a tight corner last month in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, and the pair again made contact two weeks ago at Portland International Raceway. Pagenaud was penalized for avoidable contact in the latter, dropping him from second to 21st.
To Pagenaud’s credit, he has kept a low profile, insisting he is under contract to Team Penske to drive the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
Pagenaud was happy to earn a spot in Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six, but he thought he should have at least been second to teammate Josef Newgarden.
“I was on a (good) lap, so went too hard on the hairpin, and it was a little too much for the car,” he said in an interview with NBCSN. “We might have lost second position there, but I tried.
“The goal was to go for pole position, but Josef sticked a really good (lap) in. It’s great for Team Penske to be (first and fourth), and tomorrow we get to go racing.”
Pagenaud earned his most-recent victory 24 races ago, in the first of two races at Iowa Speedway in 2020, so ending the season – and maybe his time with Team Penske – in victory lane would be gratifying.
“(Long Beach) is my favorite track, so I’ve been enjoying the weekend,” he said.
If Sunday is Pagenaud’s final race with Team Penske, it’s been quite a run.