MILLER: For Pagenaud, this was more than just an Indy win

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MILLER: For Pagenaud, this was more than just an Indy win

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MILLER: For Pagenaud, this was more than just an Indy win

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We don’t know if Roger Penske was planning to replace Simon Pagenaud after this season. His contract was up and so was Alexander Rossi’s, and The Captain is always looking down the road for the next fast face.

The French veteran is 35, and Rossi is 27. Prior to this month’s IndyCar GP, Pagenaud had been winless since 2017, while the Californian has been the talk of the paddock for two years with his rapid ascension to the top of the IndyCar queue.

Some on Rossi’s Andretti Autosport team were nervous, constantly asking, ‘Was their driver heading to Team Penske in 2020?’

Personally, I’ve said I wasn’t sure Rossi wanted to go to there; that Honda was going to do everything it could to keep him; and that he seems like a driver who might put loyalty before anything else.

I didn’t want to see him go because that would just upset the balance of power. I believe it’s better for IndyCar if Rossi stays with Michael Andretti.

But after Sunday, I don’t think what once figured to be the story of Silly Season has any oxygen left.

Pagenaud drove at the highest level possible this month. He swept May, and took the broom to all of those rumors. He won a thrilling battle with Rossi to snare the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and, more importantly, he secured his job.

In the final stages of the Indy 500, Pagenaud found himself battling against the driver that some speculated might have been his eventual replacement at Penske. Image Abbott/LAT

You win Indianapolis for R.P., and you’re not going anywhere except back to North Carolina to re-sign for at least two more years.

To his credit, the Friendly Frog never seemed concerned about his place in the paddock during the slump. His standard response was that he hadn’t forgotten how to drive and he felt confident he’d have a seat somewhere in 2020. He never got snooty when asked if he was worried about his future, and he remained even-keeled through the shaky start he had this year.

Certainly there was no reason to spoil Pagenaud’s magnificent Indy 500-winning moment on Sunday afternoon with any questions regarding his status. But he made a couple of good points that always apply to Indy and to racing in general.

“Obviously in racing you need a little bit of luck on your side. You need everything to go your way,” he said. “So it did today. I could do nothing wrong, quite frankly. And sometimes I can’t do anything right. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my talent; that doesn’t mean my team is not doing a good job. It’s just you have to accept that there’s a little bit of mystery out there that you can’t control.

“All you can do is the best you can and extract the best out of yourself in every situation. The rest? It sorts itself out really.”

Since connecting with engineer Bretzman (at right) in 2012, Pagenaud has been formidable. Image by LePage/LAT

Ever since getting paired with engineer Ben Bretzman at Schmidt Peterson in 2012, they’ve been a tough combination, winning four times for SPM before The Captain snatched them both up in 2015.

Simon was the 2016 IndyCar champion and finished second to teammate Josef Newgarden in 2017 before they lost their way in 2018. He started off this year with a 7-19-9-6, and the Rossi whispers were getting louder.

Then he staged a marvelous charge in the rain to overtake Scott Dixon and win the IndyCar Grand Prix. He followed that up by winning the Indy pole in his Menard’s Chevy. And then he applied the coup de grace on Sunday in a dandy duel with the racer who may have been offered his seat before the month began.

But R.P., whose standard response when asked about a driver’s future is that he doesn’t discuss anything until after the season, went off script Sunday.

Asked if Pagenaud would be back next year, Penske replied: “What do you think? Do you want to answer that question for me? Absolutely.”

That was a done deal when Simon flashed under the checkered flag a few car lengths ahead of Rossi. In the toughest circumstances, when you know that you have to deliver for the most successful team in American motorsports history and the clock is ticking, Pagenaud performed like a badass these past three weeks.

He kept his composure and his job. Vive la France.

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