Pato O'Ward Opens Month of May With Race Win at Barber

Arrow McLaren SP driver made a daring pass for the lead en route to his first victory of the season.
Pato O'Ward Opens Month of May With Race Win at Barber

What started out as a rough beginning to the season has suddenly turned around for Pato O'Ward. The Mexican driver finished 12th and 15th in the first two races but scored a top-five finish in the last race at Long Beach. O'Ward kept the momentum going today, earning his first victory of the season at Barber Motorsports Park.

This is the third career win for O'Ward, who has been rumored to have recently agreed to terms on a contract extension with the Arrow McLaren SP team. With concerns over his future apparently settled, O'Ward has been able to fully focus on his driving, and it certainly paid off today with the win.

The pass for the win came on Lap 62 as the front runners had just made their final pit stops. Entering Turn 5, Rinus VeeKay continued to lead but O'Ward made a daring move on the outside and went around the Ed Carpenter Racing driver to take over the lead.

"It sucks to be at war within your own team. So I’m glad there’s been more positive talks for the future,” O’Ward said. "I wanted to do it for these guys, for Arrow McLaren SP, for Chevy. They’ve swept this year so far, so great for them. I was tired of being 10th and 11th and fifth and I said let’s get a win under our belts so we can climb back into this championship race. We were fighting for the win, and we got in the pits, that was my chance. I got on my push-to-pass button and got him in Turn 5. After that, it was a cruise to victory lane."

After starting on pole, VeeKay dominated the first half of the race. The 21-year old led 57 of the 90 laps this afternoon and still managed a podium finish, but O'Ward wasn't the only driver to get around him. Reigning series champion Alex Palou use a couple of massive in laps before his final pit stop to jump ahead of VeeKay as well. Palou won this race last year, and had a solid runner-up finish today, finishing just 0.980 of a second behind O'Ward.

Both drivers begin the month of May with positive momentum. O'Ward is back in victory lane and Palou is back in the top spot of the championship standings.

Palou has finished 2nd, 7th, 3rd, and 2nd in the four races this season, a strong indication that he can repeat as champion. Will Power still holds the best average finishing position this year, as the Team Penske driver collected another 4th place finish today at Barber. He is the only driver to have finished inside the top-four in every race this year. Even more impressive, Power earned that 4th place finish after starting the race from the 19th spot.

Rounding out the top five on Sunday was Scott Dixon, who had another solid result, but remains winless on the scenic road course. He just missed out on a tenth podium finish at Barber, but had a fantastic day considering he started back in 13th position. The six-time champion is still the only driver to complete every lap of every race at Barber, and the only driver to have finished inside the top ten in each one.

Scott McLaughlin had a very busy day on track, with multiple run ins with other drivers and going off course as he was involved in many position battles throughout the day. Ultimately, the Penske driver brought home a 6th place finish in his No. 3 Chevrolet. Romain Grosjean finished just behind him in 7th, but had even more on-track problems today.

In the closing laps, the Andretti Autosport driver got into a heated battle with Graham Rahal, and the two made contact more than once. The first contact looked to be incidental, but the second was a more intentional bump into the left side of Rahal's Honda. Graham was extremely frustrated with Grosjean over the radio, and the two exchanged words after the race. Rahal had to conserve fuel to make it to the end, and slipped to 8th.

"We're gonna need to have a little sit down, a little conversation to find out what the hell is going on here," Rahal said. "All the drivers need to get together. I'm not the only one with a problem. It's quite a significant number of drivers that have had run-ins with this guy. As I said on TV, when the roles are reversed, the officiating had better be consistent because it's gonna be reversed at some stage. I'm not gonna play nice. This guy has overstayed his welcome."

Pato O'Ward Opens Month of May With Race Win at Barber

The driver that had the busiest weekend may have been Alexander Rossi. After his massive crash in practice on Saturday morning, the team performed a miracle and got the car ready for qualifying. Rossi rewarded their efforts with a top-five starting position. He was not able to move forward during the race though, and delivered a 9th place finish, ahead of his teammate Colton Herta.

Herta had high hopes coming into the weekend. The young phenom was poised to contend for pole and the race win, but after getting caught out by a red flag during qualifying, he was forced to start in 10th position, which is where he finished today. He had a better result in hand, but threw it away when he tried to make a desperate pass on McLaughlin late in the race.

Josef Newgarden had all of the momentum entering the weekend after winning the last two races, but that did not continue the way he had hoped. Like Herta, he was caught out during qualifying but still managed to start the race in 7th position, but could not go forward. The Penske driver had a rough afternoon and finished 14th.

The best story of the weekend was the performance of Juncos Hollinger Racing and rookie driver Callum Ilott. After earning an 11th place starting position on Saturday, things were going well early in the race as they were running inside the top ten. Unfortunately, it didn't end well after a battle with Helio Castroneves near Turn 9. Ilott's attempt to out-brake the four-time Indy 500 winner ended up with his No. 77 Chevrolet in the gravel.

With today's race at Barber all wrapped up, the focus can now turn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The series will have Mother's Day weekend off before the cars hit the IMS road course. Coverage for Saturday's GMR Grand Prix begins at 3 PM ET on NBC.

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