By Craig Merz
LEXINGTON, Ohio — Simon Pagenaud didn’t take the lead for good until the 85th of 90 laps when Conor Daly pitted for fuel, The Frenchman really won the race Sunday on a restart on Lap 66.
Pagenaud outraced Team Penske teammate Will Power to move ahead of him for good, and ended up beating the Australian by 4.16 seconds in the Honda Indy 200.
The pair nearly came together on the last of the 13 turns on the 2.2-mile at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during after the race went back to green, but both escaped.
“We’re battling for a race, we’re battling for a championship,” Pagenaud said.
Power said he was cognizant that he was going against a teammate.
“In the last turn if I hadn’t backed off we would have crashed,” he said. “At that point I knew it was a teammate. (Team owner Roger Penske) would have been pretty mad if we had taken each other out.”
Pagenaud took the lead at the end when Daly gave up a 10.5-second advantage over Pagenaud to make a fuel stop. Even with a 4.8-second stop, Daly fell to eighth and ended up sixth.
Carlos Munoz was third and 2015 race winner Graham Rahal was fourth, 7.01 seconds.
A fourth victory of the season and the eighth of his IndyCar career increased Pagenaud’s series points lead to 58 over Power. Pagenaud knew his advantage would have been down to 38 if Power had won, so he took a chance on the restart.
“I didn’t have much to lose,” Pagenaud said. “It was my time.”
Power blamed himself for letting Pagenaud pass him.
“I just blew it,” Power said. “I needed to do a much better job on that restart. It was not the greatest. I was quite slow. I put myself in the position to allow him to have a shot. When you have a shot, of course, you’re going to go for it.”
Daly, looking for his first victory, took the lead when the race went to caution on Lap 61 when Jack Hawksworth went into the tires. During the pit stops Mikhail Aleshin, who led for 33 laps, pulled in front of Josef Newgarden and was ordered to the rear of the field.
Charlie Kimball had a great restart from the fifth position only to immediately drop back when he went off the course.
Five-time Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon left the race after 14 laps following a collision with Helio Castroneves in Turn 2. Dixon returned on lap 60 and finished last of the 22 cars to drop a spot to fifth in the points standings.
Dixon was gaining on Castroneves, but Castroneves kept the inside line and Dixon could not get around him. Dixon’s left tire buckled under and the suspension was damaged.
“We were racing hard there,” Dixon said. “I was alongside. He kept edging over and there was nowhere to go. We made pretty good contact.”
Castroneves remained in the race and finished 15th.
The race capped a good weekend for Pagenaud, who won his sixth pole of the season, first at Mid-Ohio, with a course record time of 1 minute, 3.87 seconds (127.271 mph) around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile course Saturday during the final qualifying session.
WHO’S HOT: Power has three firsts and two seconds in the past five races and increased his points lead over third-place Castroneves, another Team Penske driver, to 53.
WHO’S NOT: Despite his recent success, Power has only four races to catch Pagenaud for the series championship. “It’s tough for me now, but absolutely it’s possible,” Power said.
CLOSE IN MANY WAYS: Rahal grew up 60 miles from the course in Columbus and wore an Ohio State-themed fire suit from head-to-toe but couldn’t pull out a repeat win despite a late surge that took him from 17th to one spot off the podium. “I’m a little bit frustrated we couldn’t be a little better,” he said. “I wanted to win today, but I think we got the absolute most out of this thing.”
FEELING BETTER: Pagenaud battled a bad back all weekend. Asked post-race how he was feeling, he said it hurt most braking and turning on Turn 9 but, “It doesn’t matter now, because we won.”
NUMBERS: Aleshin led the most laps followed by Pagenaud’s 23. There were seven lead changes and two cautions for 10 laps.
UP NEXT: Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending race winner.