BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a race of differing fuel strategies, it was Alex Palou’s two-stop strategy that paid off as he held off a charging Will Power in the closing laps to collect his first career win in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Palou won in his first-ever start with his new team in Chip Ganassi Racing.
“We knew we had the best team and the best car,” Palou said. “It was just the team telling me on the radio to keep the mileage and it was easy. It was one of those days where everything went well.”
Palou was locked in a strategy duel with pole-sitter Pato O’Ward in the early going. Gambling on strategy, O’Ward surrendered the lead early to opt for a three-pitstop strategy in order to try and push harder in the end.
Palou’s team went with a two-stop strategy and Palou was able to gain a lot of time in his opening stint taking the softer red tires a full 31 laps, stretching the life of those tires to the breaking point.
Palou massaged that lead into a duel with Power in the final 20 laps, in which Power found himself with double the amount of push-to-pass left than Palou, but he couldn’t use it as much as he would have liked.
“With the amount of push to pass I had left it would have been pretty good,” said Power. “But I had to save some fuel. I couldn’t believe how quick Alex (Palou) was in that first stint. I had nothing for him.”
After O’Ward completed the third stop of his strategy, he would cycle out fifth, nine seconds behind Palou and out of contention for the win.
Palou overcame some lap traffic and used his remaining push-to-pass to keep Power behind him and grab the win. In spite of coming up short of the win, Power is happy with the result for his Team Penske crew.
“It’s great,” said Power. “If we can do this week in and week out we will have a great chance at winning the championship.”
Digging a hole for himself in the championship was Josef Newgarden, who wrecked on the opening lap collecting fellow contender Colton Herta and other drivers as well. It would be the only major incident of the day.
“I got loose coming over the hill,” Newgarden said. “I thought I had the car and touched the grass, and I think once I touched the grass, it pitched me sideways. I feel really bad for anyone that got involved in that. Obviously, my mess created a bigger mess.”
IndyCar rookie driver Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR champion, finished two-laps down in 19th in his IndyCar debut.
“Very happy to have finished, two pretty scary moments during the race,” Johnson said. “I spun and lost a lap at that point, but I learned a ton.”
Formula One veteran and fellow rookie Romain Grosjean had a much better showing finishing 1oth for his Dale Coyne-Rick Wear team.
The result is huge for Ganassi in not only getting the win with Palou, but with Dixon finishing third and Marcus Ericsson eighth. Three drivers inside the top ten.
Palou takes the lead in the points to the Streets of St. Petersburg in just a week’s time.
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