Second was as good as it could get for Pagenaud in '17

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Simon Pagenaud gave it everything he had in trying to defend his Verizon IndyCar Series championship this past season, but surmised that finishing second to Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden came down to racing’s bottom line.

The biggest difference? Newgarden won a series-best four races to Pagenaud’s two. The year before, Pagenaud celebrated his first series title with a series-best five wins to runner-up Will Power’s four. Although Pagenaud won the season-ending, double-points GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17, he finished 13 points behind Newgarden.

“Josef had more points, so he did a better job over the whole season,” Pagenaud said. “On average, though, we had better average finishes, but it’s not just the average. You’ve got to win races. We didn’t win enough races.”

Pagenaud’s 17-race average finish was 5.3 compared to Newgarden’s 6.1. Pagenaud finished out of the top 10 just twice, whereas Newgarden had four results worse than 10th. Pagenaud had 13 top-five finishes to Newgarden’s 10.

“Could’ve, would’ve, right?” Pagenaud said.

That said, with everything on the line in the end, the 33-year-old Frenchman was proud of how the final challenge brought out the best in him as he won at Sonoma for a second consecutive year – even though it wasn’t enough to allow Pagenaud to retain the coveted No. 1 on his Team Penske Chevrolet for another season.

“The most satisfying part of the whole season is to be here standing in victory lane in the last race, which is double points when the pressure is on, when you have to perform to deliver,” Pagenaud said. “That’s what I’m going to take away from this. The satisfaction is there. I just peaked a little late in the season.

“It’s not like we’re leaving this No. 1 without honor. We gave it a fair fight. I had to win the race (at Sonoma), and we did. We did our best. You can’t control the others. I’ll be back, punching even harder.”

In such a competitive series, with seven drivers still mathematically in the hunt for the title entering the final race, Pagenaud was the only one who was on the track for every lap in every race this season. It was further testimony to his consistency as a competitor.

“I'm very proud of my guys,” he said. “Mechanically, we had zero problems this year, no mechanical issues. Chevy has been incredible in terms of reliability. Also, my team, we never had an issue during the race, barely any — I don't think we had any problems in the pits at all. I didn't make any stupid mistakes, didn't break a wing, didn't have any contact at any point. So we finished every single lap of the season, which I don't know the stats, but that's insane, I think, and I'm very, very proud of that.

“That's kind of my trait as a driver. I don't go off track very often, and I think this season maybe we didn't have the outright pace at every race, but at least we had consistency, and we see it pays off.”

Pagenaud was asked if there was a key moment in the season that enabled Newgarden to prevail, most notably when his teammate bumped past him to win the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline on Aug. 26 at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. But Pagenaud first mentioned the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he finished third to another teammate’s victory as Power celebrated the win.

“I feel like I could have won the race, but I just sat behind Will and tried to work as a team and tried to finish the race together as the race was getting crazy,” he said, referring to crashes that eliminated other cars. “So it was a smart drive, but maybe I should have been more aggressive to collect more points. That's really my first thought.

“Then Gateway, that's racing. You know, Josef managed to get it done. I don't know what it is I could have done in that situation, so I just can't go back on that and be disappointed. I think I did the best I could, the best I could pretty much all season. I don't have any regrets, no.”

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