With Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden’s star continuing to rise and teammate Will Power building his case for one of the greatest in the sport’s history on almost a weekly basis, Simon Pagenaud has in a way become the forgotten man on his own team.

Crazy to think, given he’s a 10-time winner in the NTT IndyCar Series and is the 2016 champion. That can be the nature of the sport, and Pagenaud is currently the driver who is the recipient of the silent treatment.

Don’t tell him that. After qualifying was completed for Sunday’s race, Pagenaud had something to say on the record.

“I wasn’t gone,” he said. “I’m still here.”

It wasn’t said with any sense of bravado, mind you, just a quick reminder in case anyone had forgotten.

The Frenchman was feeling particularly feisty during an entertaining press conference after he made his first trip into the Firestone Fast 6 of the season Saturday, and will start fifth on the grid for the race’s 45th edition. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who swept both the pole and the race last year, will start from the pole again, with Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon alongside on the front row.

Since winning at Sonoma in the 2017 season finale, Pagenaud has gone through a 20-race winless streak that’s seen him step on the podium just twice. This season, he’s finished seventh at St. Pete, 19th at Circuit of the Americas and ninth last weekend at Barber to sit 12th overall in the season points standings.

Qualifying has been a big reason for his finishes. Pagenaud hasn’t started better than 13th this season (St. Pete), so not only was this his first Fast Six appearance of the season, it’s the first time he’s even made it through the first round of qualifying.

But he was fifth in Practice 3 Saturday morning, and repeated that feat later in the day as Penske put all three of its drivers in the Fast Six for the first time this season.

“We’ve worked pretty hard,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see how hard Team Penske has been working all winter trying to figure out that street course setup, and as we’ve shown today with all three cars being in the Fast Six, we’ve made a great improvement. I had a lot of fun driving the car all weekend.

“I’m pretty pleased being fifth on the grid. We won from fourth in 2016, so why not?”

He should feel good, as he’s raced well at times this year, improving six positions during the race at St. Pete and five at Barber. The fact he’s talking about winning means he hasn’t lost confidence in himself, an attitude he’s had on and off the track this weekend.

“I’m pretty focused, 100 percent,” Pagenaud said. “Yeah, (I) might have shown some aggressiveness, fire, yeah, that’s not a bad thing. I think ego comes out when you’re confident. I think that’s what’s going on.”

Pit Lane Parley

Speaking of predictions, Host Mike, Jess and Matt have their own in this week’s episode, as well as a Barber wrap-up.

And don’t forget about the Pit Lane Parley Experience with Harding Steinbrenner Racing as well.

You can hear both on all streaming platforms, but check it out on iTunes here.

 

Cover photo credit: Stephen King/IndyCar Media

Story photo credit: Me