Bet you can’t guess who’s leading the NTT IndyCar Series’ points hunt?

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou travels to Belle Isle with the rest of the IndyCar field in the rearview mirror.

It’s rare that Chip Ganassi isn’t seen without a smile on his face. But if you think the veteran IndyCar and NASCAR team owner is smiling even more than usual this year, then you’re not wrong, especially on the IndyCar front.

And it’s Alex Palou, the ganassi from ear to ear Lets your ear shine. The 24-year-old Spaniard had a breakout year in his second season at the IndyCar circuit. Not only is he the current championship leader en route to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubles race this weekend at the Belle Isle Street / Road circuit in Motor City, he also takes a commanding second place in the Indianapolis 500.

But wait , there’s more: Palou won the IndyCar race at the opening of the season in Birmingham and, apart from a 17th place in the following race in St. Petersburg, took three podiums (the Birmingham win, second place in Indy and third in the Indianapolis Grand Prix) as well as fourth and seventh places at the first double-header weekend of the season in Texas in April.

To say that Palou, who joined Chip Ganassi Racing this season, after participating in his rookie campaign Dale Coyne Racing had spent in 2020, which is one of the most pleasant surprises of the current IndyCar season, is an understatement.

He even got his CGR teammate, defending champion Scott Dixon, a part of the Thunder stolen. But Ganassi smiles anyway, because Dixon is second in the IndyCar classification behind Palou, 36 points behind Belle Isle.

« I don’t think too much about it, » said Palou about the number 1 in the IndyCar classification . He knows there are 10 races left, including the one-two this weekend. And as good as his performance in the first six races was, he also knows that his luck can change just as quickly.

« I think when you start thinking about the championship there is no point if you don’t runs on the track, ”said Palou. « If you’re on the right track, it doesn’t make sense either.

 » We’re just trying to do session after session, as we’ve done so far. If we continue what we’ve done everywhere, I think we can fight for this championship until the end.

“Of course it’s good to have a bit of a gap now after the 500. I think we got a lot of points in our, say, weaker places like Texas and (Indy). Super proud of that. … Yes, super happy. We’ll keep fighting. ”

While optimistic that his streak will continue, Palou remains amazed at how he lost his chance at racing immortality when Helio Castroneves overtook him with less than two laps to go winning the 105th round of the Indy 500 almost two weeks ago.

« It hurts, it hurts a lot, » said Palou. “I didn’t think second place would hurt so much until I crossed the finish line. But I’m super proud, super happy. I was really confident. It was a close fight to the end. ”

But Palou didn’t lose his sense of humor after Castroneves’ fourth win at Indy and put him in a select group with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with four wins each in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

« I don’t know why, but he had three (wins) and why did he want four? He could have given me one, ”said Palou with a laugh. “I just wanted one. But it is okay. We’ll be back next year for sure.

And considering how he finished this year’s classic, Palou is likely to return to Indy as one of the favorites to win the 500 next year.

« It is the race, it’s the beauty of the race, « said Palou. “If it hurts, it’s good because you know there is something better. If you win, it’s the most satisfying.

« Come on, we finished second in my second Indy 500. How can I be sad? I just hurt a little. Because I wanted this victory more than anything, but Helio wanted it too. I think all 33 drivers wanted the same thing. I’m happy. I’m living the dream, man. ”

Ironically, IndyCar announced on Wednesday a six-position penalty for Palou and CGR on Saturday’s starting grid at Belle Isle for an unauthorized engine change before the Indy 500 to pole for Saturday’s race in He won’t be able to start Detroit higher than seventh.

And hopefully, when the race is over on Saturday, Palou can finally fix his shortcoming at Indy.

“Starting today, I’ll watch it all the way to Detroit every day « He said with another laugh before adding seriously, » I’m super proud of what we’ve done. But we have to keep working. « 

Palou is one of several young drivers who made a lot of noise on the track this season – in a good way, of course. Five of the eight best drivers in the 500 series were in their twenties: Palou , Pato O’Ward (fourth), Santino Ferrucci (sixth), Sage Karam (seventh) and Indy Grand Prix winner Rinus Veekay (eighth).

« Yes, we want to take over, but these veterans allow not us, « Palou said blankly, causing hysterical laughter after the 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center.

 » I feel good, « he said of the trip to Detroit. » I don’t think we have any doing crazy moves or something like that. We just learn lap by lap and have fun. ”

And even if he wins one or both races this weekend, Palou the youngster has the prospect of an experienced veteran, the likes of Dixon, Castroneves , Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and so many others IndyCar veterans respected.

But given his start this season, he’s well on his way to reaching « these guys ».

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