NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Colton Herta Dominates Laguna Seca; Alex Palou Inches Closer to IndyCar Championship

Colton Herta dominated the day en route to victory in the NTT IndyCar Series’ Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday (Sept. 29).

This win marks the fifth of Herta’s young IndyCar career, surpassing his father Bryan’s career total of four. Herta led from pole and saw two of his closest competitors have troubles early on; Alexander Rossi spun from second on lap two, while third-place starter Will Power encountered power issues by lap 11. However, Herta’s dominance may be overshadowed by the stories seen unfolding behind him.

Like his father Bryan, Herta has now won twice at Laguna Seca, and professed his affinity for the Monterey track in victory lane.

“I enjoy racing here so much,” Herta said. “It’s an amazing track for me and my family. It’s been so good for us!”

Championship leader Alex Palou had an overall productive day, finishing second behind Herta after starting on the second row alongside Power. However, Palou’s championship rivals enjoyed much less fortune.

Pato O’Ward dropped like a stone in the race’s opening laps as he battled an extremely loose car. O’Ward maintained position in the top 10 for much of the race, but never found the pace or luck to close in on Palou and make a serious impact on the points gap.

O’Ward was left frustrated after a lackluster race which left him 35 points behind Palou heading into Long Beach.

“All weekend we didn’t have it,” O’Ward said. “I truly feel like we absolutely juiced every single ounce of energy and pace this car had.”

Unfortunately for him, all that energy and pace was only worth a fifth-place finish.

Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden struggled to keep pace on both black and red tires and had to pit twice by the 25th lap, leaving him to manage the next 70 laps of the race on two pit stops.

Scott Dixon’s race was largely uneventful until he was collected by a spinning Takuma Sato in Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew. The incident effectively ended Dixon’s championship hopes, even though he was able to continue to the finish.

While the championship contenders were having mixed to negative days, Romain Grosjean was busy cutting through the field like a hot knife through butter. During the final stint, Grosjean carved through the field and clawed his way past O’Ward and Graham Rahal to grab a podium finish. Grosjean paced the field during that run, becoming the fastest car on track using a pair of used red tires.

Palou’s teammate Jimmie Johnson was told to “make [Grosjean] work for it” as the former Formula 1 driver approached like a bat out of Hell. Grosjean’s response to Johnson’s defense was a sliding divebomb into the Corkscrew, which resulted in contact that sent Johnson off track. Race control made no comment on the move and Grosjean’s charge continued. The Frenchman was less than two seconds behind Palou by the time the checkered flag fell.

Other notable days included Oliver Askew, delivered a strong performance in the second of his three-race stint with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, coming home in ninth place after qualifying fifth. In addition, Johnson posted a career-best finish of 17th.

Behind Herta, Palau, and Grosjean the top 10 consisted of: Rahal, O’Ward, Marcus Ericsson, Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Askew and Ed Jones.

The NTT IndyCar Series will close out the 2021 season on Sunday, September 26th on the streets of Long Beach. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will begin at 3:00 p.m. EST with coverage on NBCSN.

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