INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been said that winning the Indianapolis 500 is a life-changing experience.

In Simon Pagenaud’s case, his victory in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 certainly saved his career with Team Penske.

The popular driver from France entered the Month of May as an afterthought, and left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway three weeks later as the most accomplished driver in racing.

He became only the second driver in history to win the IndyCar Grand Prix, the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and The Greatest Spectacle in Racing in the same year.

Pagenaud fended off a fiercely determined Alexander Rossi over the final 13 laps to win the 500. The two drivers traded passes, bringing the crowd of nearly 300,000 to its feet.

On lap 198, Rossi had his opportunity to make what he thought would be the race-winning pass when he went around Pagenaud in turn one.

Two turns later, Pagenaud regained the lead.

Simon Pagenaud (22) passes Alexander Rossi for the win during the 103rd Indianapolis 500. (Ginny Heithaus photo)

Pagenaud drove his Chevrolet/Dallara in “Conga-like” fashion, trying to break the draft that could keep Rossi’s Honda/Dallara close enough to pass. The strategy ultimately worked, as Pagenaud finished .209 seconds ahead of Rossi.

His first Indy 500 victory gave him the “May Sweep,” joining teammate Will Power, who accomplished the feat in 2018.

Pagenaud entered the month in the midst of a winless streak that had hit 22 races, stretching back to the final race of the 2017 season.

It’s an important year for Pagenaud because it’s the final year of his contract with Team Penske. According to Kyle Moyer, the team’s IndyCar general manager, drivers are expected to win at Team Penske.

“Any year is important here, especially if it’s a year where you didn’t win any races,” Moyer said. “Roger Penske expects drivers to win and the team expects drivers to win, or you are going to be replaced.

“He needs to get winning, contract or not. That’s what we are paid to do. That is what we are expected to do,” Moyer added. “Does he need to win? Yes.”

After completing his sweep at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Roger Penske was asked if Pagenaud would be back with the team next year.

“What do you think?” Penske responded. “Do you want to answer that question for me? Absolutely.

“I don’t think that I said anything to the media about Simon. He’s on our team. He’s one of our drivers. You’ve seen that,” Penske said. “That was scuttlebutt. I think that’s a good word for it. But what he did this month, certainly he achieved records in his own personal life and certainly what he had expected to, and the run today, it’s a history-book run for me when we think about some of the races — an opportunity to be in the winner’s circle, so he did a great job.”

It was the 18th Indianapolis 500 victory for Team Penske and came on the 50th anniversary of the team’s first Indianapolis 500 start.

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