Alex Palou started today's race from pole, the first of his IndyCar career. He did not actually make turn 1. A race later, he won the race anyway.
Palou was one of three orange cars to go off while battling for the lead in turn 1. Teammate Scott Dixon dove to the inside from third on the start and looked ready to take the position when Felix Rosenqvist came in hot and tapped the left-rear tire of Palou. Rosenqvist went hard into the runoff area, while Dixon and Palou's respective recoveries left both Chip Ganassi Racing team cars in the turn 1 runoff as a yellow came out for other spins further back in the field. IndyCar rules dictate that cars which make the triangular chicane complex are given priority on the restart, so all three were shuffled to the back of the field and Pato O'Ward was promoted to the race lead.
The yellow that followed was inexplicably 11 laps long, stretching far enough to give the drivers that did spin an opportunity to jump onto an alternate strategy by pitting late. That group ended up including about eight cars, leaving O'Ward temporarily an entire field ahead of his main championship rivals with Graham Rahal a distant second. He and Rahal stopped on around the same schedule, then the cars that stopped earlier pitted on their own five to ten laps later. Then, two stalled cars off track brought out a less urgent caution, allowing some drivers to stop in advance of the yellow. O'Ward and a few others took this opportunity. The rest of the field, including Rahal and all of the cars that spun earlier, chose to use the extra yellow time to race to the end on just one more stop.
O'Ward would need to pass 11 cars to get back to the lead and secure a historic bi-continental weekend sweep for McLaren. Instead, he suddenly found himself down on power. He would finish 14th and lose his championship lead. All three other serious title contenders would finish in the top five.
That left Graham Rahal in the lead of the race, but his choice not to stop during the first caution meant that he needed to save fuel over the course of his final two stints. He led before his final stop, but fuel savings over the stint that followed left him a distant tenth. Meanwhile, all of Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Alex Palou separately leapfrogged one another on overcuts, leaving Palou ahead of Rossi before two single-car spins led to two final restarts. Palou would hold off Rossi on both, then see Rossi put two tires off on his best charge of the day en route to a second place finish just 1.3 seconds behind the leader. Scott Dixon would complete the podium, while Josef Newgarden would finish fifth.
All the turmoil has turned what briefly looked like it would be an excellent day for Patricio O'Ward into a disaster. Not only did he lose the championship lead, he now sits a distant 25 points behind new leader Palou. Newgarden and Dixon lost points on the new leader even after their own strong finishes, but O'Ward's fall has left them within 50 points of a championship with two races left. Marcus Ericsson, 75 points back of that lead, is still mathematically alive but will need to outscore both Palou and O'Ward to maintain that status heading into the season finale.
IndyCar's final two races, both in California, will decide that championship fight. The first will run at Laguna Seca at this time next weekend, then the series will wrap up with a re-scheduled Grand Prix of Long Beach.
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