Alex Palou reclaims IndyCar championship lead with win at Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — Two-time IndyCar champion Alex Palou reclaimed the lead in the points standings by winning from the pole Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway.

Palou, now a two-time winner on the permanent road course, has finished on the podium in all four of his career starts at the California track. His win there in the 2022 season finale was believed to be the catalyst for him changing his mind to leave Chip Ganassi Racing for a move to Arrow McLaren Racing.

It is the second win of the season for the Spaniard, not counting his victory in the $1 million exhibition race in March. He wasn't able to explain his dominance on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile jewel of a road course.

“I wish I knew, that way hopefully I could try and analyze and see if I could do the same in other tracks where I’m not as fast,” Palou said. “I love this track. When you love a track so much, I think you get something extra that helps everything. The fact that we had really good cars here helps a lot.

“I would say it’s a proper track. You cannot really do any mistakes,” he continued. “It allows you to push really hard. It’s the most beautiful place we go to, for sure.”

Palou lost the lead exiting the first turn of the race to Kyle Kirkwood but reclaimed it through strategy. He then had to hold off Herta, who was in fuel-saving mode at the end of the race, through three late cautions.

Palou ultimately led 48 of 95 laps.

“I did a mistake and lost the lead. I was not really happy with myself at the beginning and the team had to do a really risky strategy, too risky,” Palou said. “It was too risky, but it worked out.”

Colton Herta finished second for Andretti Global and Alexander Rossi finished third to earn his first podium of the season — and only his second overall since joining Arrow McLaren.

“It was a good result for us. Obviously it's frustrating not to win here, being from California,” Herta said. “We had a lot of pace and it sucks not to win here. I really want to win here, but I'm happy with a podium.”

Rossi, who is also from California, led 10 laps. Herta led eight.

“We'll take a lot of positives out of the weekend,” said Rossi, who is in a contract year with McLaren. His seat is the only of the three at McLaren yet to be locked down for 2025.

Romain Grosjean was fourth in his best finish since joining Juncos Hollinger Racing this year. It was the best finish ever for a JHR driver.

Kirkwood of Andretti faded to fifth. He was followed by Scott Dixon of Ganassi and then Will Power of Team Penske. Power had held a five-point lead over Palou in the standings prior to Sunday's race.

It was an OK Arrow McLaren debut for 19-year-old Palo Alto native Nolan Siegel, who was just hired for the seat earlier this week. The youngest driver on the grid spun off the track and into the gravel to draw a full-course caution on a restart midway through the race.

“Sorry about that,” he radioed. “I'm really sorry.”

He finished 12th after starting 23rd and was the “biggest mover of the race.”

“All done with my first race at Arrow McLaren. Overall, I think it was a successful day,” Siegel said. “It wasn’t without its challenges, but everyone pushed through and kept at it all race long. We were able to make up a ton of spots at the end there. I’m grateful for my crew and can’t wait to work with them more in the future.”

Siegel is the third driver in the No. 6 this season as the ride was supposed to go to Palou, who changed his mind in a breach of contract dispute with McLaren. The team then hired David Malukas, who broke his wrist in a mountain biking crash one month before the season opener.

After he missed the fourth race of the season, it triggered a clause in Malukas' contract that allowed McLaren to fire him and the team finally settled on Siegel as his full-time replacement this week.

Malukas, meanwhile, was hired by Meyer Shank Racing. He made his season debut Sunday and finished 16th. There had been questions about whether his fitness was sufficient to complete the 95-lap race.

“Definitely a bummer to finish where we did, especially with the pace we had,” Malukas said. “I think we were tracking to be about eighth. But I guess for us to be sad about this result is OK when we really just set out to finish. I know for me, I just wanted to get across the line. But overall it was a great first outing with a new team and a new hand.”

Because of a rain stoppage at the NASCAR race in New Hampshire that caused that event to run long, NBC Sports aired the IndyCar race on its Peacock app rather than USA Network. The Cup Series remained on the USA Network for its more than six-hour duration.

IndyCar's next race is July 7 at Mid-Ohio, where hybrid engines will be introduced for the remainder of the season.


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