Simon Pagenaud picked up two positions on fresh tires during the closing laps of the Firestone 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway and finished fourth, his highest career Verizon IndyCar Series finish on an oval.
In only his second oval race, rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin executed a spirited drive to finish seventh.
Pagenaud started sixth in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, and spent most of the 248-lap race in the top five. A late-race caution resulted in the Frenchman's team calling him in for fresh tires, which enabled him to charge forward on the final restart with only two laps remaining.
"We had a great call from the team at the end of the race for that last restart," Pagenaud said.
Several cars in front of Pagenaud opted to stay on track, making them easy prey for the Frenchman on the restart.
"I was a little confused when I was told to pit with two laps left, but I followed the orders, and it truly paid off," he said. "New tires at the end of the race are what you want as a driver. That split-second choice by my team enabled us to gain two spots on the final laps, and I had a blast."
Pagenaud was pleased with his team's setup choice and performance on the high-banked, 1.5-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway.
"SPM gave me a car that suited me very well tonight, which helped me feel comfortable the whole race," he said. "The car was easy to drive, and our pit stops were fast. Honda did a great job, too, giving us a lot of speed in our engine."
Rookie Aleshin started 11th. After the initial fuel stint, the Russian spent the entire race running in the top 10.
"I learned so much tonight at Texas Motor Speedway," Aleshin said. "The team did a great job giving me a fast car, and our pit stops were strong. It helped that I didn't make too many mistakes, and we were able to get a strong result."
Before the final restart on Lap 243, Race Control ordered all cars not on the lead lap to drive through pit lane, allowing lead lap cars to group together. Aleshin followed Race Control's direction, but two other cars on his lap did not, advancing them past him. Following the checkered flag, race control issued 30-second penalties to all four offending cars, putting Aleshin back into seventh position.
Seventh remains Aleshin's highest Verizon IndyCar Series finish, matching his results on the street circuits in Long Beach and Detroit (Race 2).
"I hear many experienced drivers say that as soon as you think you're used to an oval, it will bite you," he said. "With that in mind, I know I'm not used to this type of racing. But I'm starting to get it. There is just so much for me to learn on every corner of every lap in every race. There are a lot of unknowns for me. But when you have a good car like I did tonight, it felt great to be out there fighting for positions."
Owner/driver Ed Carpenter won the Firestone 600. He was followed to the checkered flag by Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, respectively.
The Verizon IndyCar Series takes a two-week hiatus before returning to action for the Grand Prix of Houston June 28-29. For the latest Schmidt Peterson Motorsports updates, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.