Simon Pagenaud turned a spirited driver to leapfrog Alexander Rossi for second in the NTT IndyCar Series championship, but he came up 25 points short to Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden for the series' title.

The 35-year old Frenchman surged through the field multiple times throughout the day after starting the Firestone Grand Pirx of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in fifth position.

He maintained that position throughout the opening stint before making a productive opening pitstop on Lap 13. The quick stop gained him two spots on track and ended up sandwiched between title contenders Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden.

Pagenaud pulled an aggressive pass on Rossi coming off Turn 4 on Lap 29 which ended up with Rossi getting booted off course. IndyCar race control reviewed the incident but took no further action.

The 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner continued marching forward and clawed his way towards the top two of Colton Herta and Scott Dixon throughout the race's second stint.

The closing stint began on the wrong foot as he lost a spot to Rosenqvist on his final pitstop while teammate Will Power moved into second by means of stretching his fuel numbers longer. He trailed the Swedish rookie for five laps before retaking fourth before setting his sights on Dixon.

He burned up all of his allocated Push-to-Pass boost over the stretch and closed on the five-time series champion to mount an attack with less than ten laps to go.

Pagenaud attempted several moves heading into Turn 1 throughout the final ten laps, but Dixon defended his every attempt and kept him sealed in fourth place.

Nonetheless, Pagenaud relished the clean fight with his fellow champion.

"I thought he was going to give up, and he did not," he said. "He was more aggressive than usual. You know your opponents, you know what you can do with them or not, and I knew with Scott, if I -- I knew if I was overly aggressive, that maybe he would maybe give up but he did not give up.

"He's a tremendous champion. I could have maybe pushed him off, but that's not my style. I'm a clean racer, and I respect him a lot."

2019 marked a turnaround year for Pagenaud after enduring a tough 2018 season where he went winless and poleless. He spectacularly broke that drought in the Month of May when he first claimed a spirited win in the rain over Scott Dixon on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

He did one better two weeks later by claiming a career milestone win from pole in the 103rd running of Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge after a thrilling battle to the bricks with Alexander Rossi.

He picked up another win at Toronto giving him one win in each of the series circuits – road course, street circuits and ovals. That alone has the nine-year IndyCar veteran smiling heading into the offseason.

"There were a lot of rumors about me, which was very negative. It was all made up, and I don't know why that was happening. The performance was there, and we turned things around in the winter already, and I felt really confident going into the season.

"So I took the approach of staying positive and trying to let the universe go my way this year, and certainly we turned things around in that aspect in May. We had a lot of bad luck to start the season, despite having performance, and we just kept getting better and better through the year.

"Certainly winning Indy, on a personal, note was a huge relief, just because personally I feel more relevant in my sport. I feel like I've stamped my time. It's a very fulfilling accomplishment, and it certainly helped me to drive better and be a better driver after that, a hundred percent."

 

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