Pagenaud races away to first oval victory, takes points lead

Simon Pagenaud picked one of the Verizon IndyCar Series tracks richest in open-wheel history to earn his first oval victory.

The reigning series champion drove away from the field in the final half of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway, winning by 9.1028 seconds over teammate Will Power and assuming the points lead after four races of the 2017 season.

Driving the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, Pagenaud collected the 10th win of his Indy car career and led a Chevy sweep of the top four positions on the 1.022-mile oval that has hosted 63 Indy car races dating to 1964. It was also win No. 450 for Team Penske in all racing competitions and its 100th on Indy car ovals.

“I can’t explain how excited I am,” Pagenaud said. “Ovals are not my specialty – I grew up in Europe racing go-karts. I learned about ovals when I was 26 years old so I had to learn the skill and the technique that I didn’t know.

JR Hildebrand finished third in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet – the best result for Hildebrand since his memorable runner-up finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 when he crashed while leading on the final lap. Hildebrand was pleased with tonight’s showing after he sat out last week’s race at Barber Motorsports Park while a broken bone in his left hand mended from an April 9 crash in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“The car was just awesome all day,” Hildebrand said. “Excited to get the result for the team, for sure. The car was bitchin’. I think at the end of the race we had obviously one of the top three, but I think we might have had the best car on the track.”

Pagenaud holds an 18-point advantage in the championship over Scott Dixon, who finished fifth in the race. Newgarden sits third in the standings, 26 points out of first place.

Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing, who led the points entering the night, was caught in a five-car incident on the opening lap when Mikhail Aleshin spun and collected the cars of Bourdais, Marco Andretti, Max Chilton and Graham Rahal in Turn 2. No drivers were injured. Bourdais finished 19th and dropped to fourth in the standings.

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