Five quotes from the Fast 6 at Long Beach Grand Prix

The IndyCar drivers who qualified first through sixth at Long Beach on Saturday — Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal — held a smile-filled news conference after the session, cracking jokes and laughing through several exchanges.

Here are five of the best quotes from the Fast 6:

Josef Newgarden, on how impossibly close to the wall the drivers get at Long Beach:

“It’s kind of like when you’re pulling out of a parking spot and it’s tight on both sides and you back up and you start to turn and you’re like, ‘Man, am I going to miss that car in front of me?’ And your nose is like right there.

“Like 50 percent of the time, I’m just like, ‘Well, I think I’m going to make it. If I don’t, I hit him.’ (Shrugs)

“That’s kind of what it feels like. All the time on every lap, you’re just like, ‘Argh, I could hit — or maybe not.’ Most of the time you don’t. That’s what it’s like for me. It’s kind of fun.”

Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud on starting alongside each other Sunday despite their incident at the start of last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix:

Rahal: “(Last year) was like a very minor love tap.”

Pagenaud: (Scoffs in disagreement.)

Rahal: “It’s going to be a lot harder to hit him when he’s next to me. So if I’m going to do it again, I’m going to try really hard to do it.’

Pagenaud: “I think you were next to me…”

Rahal: “No, I was behind you and…”

Alexander Rossi: “It was like a torpedo.”

Pagenaud: “Yeah, a torpedo!”

Rahal: “That’s Power’s issue now, right?”

Will Power: “You behind me?”

Rahal: “Yeah.”

Power: “The difference is I’m from Toowoomba, see, and we fight.”

Rahal: “I’m really not worried about you. I’ve got like 50 pounds on you.”

Pagenaud: “I might not brake in Turn 1 just to make sure I don’t get hit.”

Rahal: “Actually, I would be perfectly fine with that. If you want to do that, that would help. You could like take out everybody and I’ll be good.”

Simon Pagenaud, off to a poor start this season, on proclaiming he was “never gone” after he made the final round of qualifying:

Pagenaud (deadpan): “It’s just my ego coming out. I’m a pretentious person, so I just said these things. Why not say it, right?”

Reporter: “I was wondering if you’re feeling unloved or ignored or if there’s something going on…”

Will Power, his teammate: “I have been ignoring him a little bit.”

Pagenaud: “Actually I have plenty of love, mostly from Will, a lot from Josef (Newgarden), too much sometimes. But no, I feel confident, so I think ego comes out when you’re confident. I think that’s what’s going on maybe.”

Reporter: “Do you have a chip on your shoulder?”

Pagenaud: “A chip? Chips are for dogs, I think. So I don’t have a chip, no. It’s all good. I’m pretty focused, 100 percent. Yeah, might have shown some aggressiveness, fire — and that’s not a bad thing.”

Alexander Rossi, responding to a reporter who said it was tough to pass at Long Beach:

“I don’t know how true that is. I don’t think it’s that hard to pass.”

Graham Rahal on why the drivers seemed so happy after making the Fast Six (final round of qualifying) but not winning the pole:

Rahal: “It’s not even the top six anymore. You feel like if you’re in the top 10, you’ve been solid. Didn’t used to be that way. Obviously, we’d all like to be on pole. It would be even better. But I think you really have to feel a sense of like accomplishment as a team. You can see it across all our mechanics, too; everybody is happy. You make it to the Fast Six, you’ve really done something.

“In my first years in this, if you made it to the Fast Six then you were like decent. And nowadays it’s just like the gap — like this morning, 1.1 seconds across from 1st to 25th over a street course this long (almost two miles) with all the bumps and curves and this and that — nowhere else in the world will you find racing that competitive, period. So I think you should feel proud if you had a good day.”

12 Questions with Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud stands on pit road prior to qualifying for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series. These interviews are recorded as a podcast, but also transcribed for those who prefer to read instead of listen.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I just had one last night, actually. We’re doing some experiments and I dreamt that I was driving it. When I was a kid, I used to dream of driving a lot — almost every night. I used to put myself into the thinking mode as well, hoping I was gonna dream about it.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

For me, personally, I don’t talk with the others. I know we’re all different. I feel like if I did something wrong and I know it’s completely wrong and it was my fault, I always apologize. Because I want to others to know that when I’m going for it and I’m in my right, I’m in my right.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

For me, the biggest would be the dedication. When someone tells me that they’re impressed how dedicated and professional I am, that’s the biggest compliment I could take.

4. IndyCar comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

There’s a lot that I’d like to host. I think one I really would like to meet and have come to the race is Jimmy Fallon, actually. I really enjoy his show and his personality seems like we could get along pretty well, so I’d love to have him here.

Have you ever gotten to go on any late night talk shows like that?

No, I haven’t. I haven’t had that opportunity, unfortunately. I hope I will someday.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, IndyCar offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

I mean, anything for a little advantage. But it would be very hard for me because I do love my chicken, my meat. It’d be a tough month. But I’d probably do it, yes.

Is the No. 1 pit stall a big advantage in IndyCar?

It is an advantage because you get a straight out. You can go straight out, you don’t need to swing around somebody. So there’s a bit of an advantage to that, yes.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished.

That might not be easy for me. (Laughs)

This is the 2014 Long Beach Grand Prix, since we’re here at Long Beach.

I was with Schmidt. I’ll try to remember the color of the car, that helps me. ’14 —was that the Lucas Oil? No, it was the Charter car, I think. Yeah, it was the Charter car. I think that’s the race I got into it with Will (Power), so I finished fifth.

Yes, you did finish fifth.

(Laughs) Which was a really good recovery.

You started sixth. You finished fifth. Mike Conway won and Juan Pablo Montoya finished just ahead of you.

Yes, we got together with Will at that race. If it wasn’t for that, I think I could have won the race. That’s why I was pretty upset. (Laughs)

Sorry to bring up a bad memory.

It’s OK. Part of it.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Eminem. No question, in my mind.

8. Who has the most punchable face in IndyCar?

Punchable? Woah! Punchable…who would I punch for pleasure? Let me think…(Alexander) Rossi. (Laughs) He’s gonna hear that and be like, “Oh yeah?” (Imitates monotone voice)

9. IndyCar enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your head mechanic, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I’d put Tay-Tay as my head mechanic so she can send me on track. She can do that really well, I’m sure. LeBron James, I’d put him as my bus driver because then we could have a little chat afterwards.

And some motivation?

Yeah. He would be really good motivation before the race, too. He could massage me, too. My bus driver actually massages me. He’s a chiropractor.

LeBron knows about sports science.

I’m sure LeBron could do that. It’d be good preparation.

And then yeah, so strategist would be Tom Hanks. I think he’s a really smart guy, so terrific.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

I always make sure I know where it is. It’s funny; I don’t even think about it, but I always check where is it depending on my grid place. It’s second nature. But there’s also another thing — when you step off the truck after the parade lap, just follow another driver.

Just draft off them.

Yeah, exactly. We’re usually all going to the same place.

11. As you know, Carl Edwards used to do backflips in NASCAR.

Is he still doing it, do you think?

I don’t know.

Maybe in his backyard.

On the farm? Yeah. So IndyCar wants their own backflipper.

By the way, my mother-in-law was really upset he retired.

She’s a fan?

Oh yeah. She was really upset.

Who did she move on to?

She moved on with me. That’s it. Nobody else. (Laughs)

So IndyCar decides it wants its own backflipper after a race. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Pay me? Several hundred million. Because I could really hurt myself and I’d probably land badly, so yeah. So several hundred million would be a good payday. I’d take that. (Laughs)

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Ty Dillon. His question was: “Why does it seem that NASCAR drivers can come to IndyCar and run well, but when IndyCar drivers come to NASCAR, the learning curve seems a lot steeper?”

That’s a shitty question. (Laughs)

He said he might be the most punchable face after asking that.

Yeah, he’s become the most punchable face. Exactly. Let me punch him the next time I see him.

I actually would agree with him. I think because we have so much grip on IndyCars that finding that limit is a little easier than NASCAR — where the limit is so early on for them, they always have to always drive under. And it’s very hard for a driver to drive under the limit, because we always want more. I do think it’s easier when you have wings to find that grip level and extract the best out of it. When you have very little grip, you’re always on the edge. So I think that’s the reason.

Also, their cars are heavier, so it’s harder to manipulate, and they have very strong competition — which we do, too. But that would be the reason I think: the grip levels of the cars, the tires are skinnier on a NASCAR, heavier car. It’s a bigger machine to move around.

My next interview is with Jimmie Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson! Do you know he’s one of my favorites?

I did not know that.

Wow, that’s cool! And his brother is one of my best friends. But I do not know Jimmie.

You don’t know Jimmie personally?

No, I don’t. Yeah, I do hang out where he grew up actually because Hailey (McDermott), my fiancee, she’s from El Cajon. They all know each other there, and Jimmie used to live in El Cajon when he grew up.

Do you have a question I can ask Jimmie?

So Jimmie’s got eight championships, right?


Seven? I thought he had eight.

He’s going for eight.

Foreshadowing! So, “For your eighth championship, Jimmie, what are you gonna do different when you celebrate, and what was the most epic moment during your celebration of your first seven?” I’d like to know that.

A NASCAR fan guide to the IndyCar championship race

Guess what race is on Sunday right after the Chicagoland race on the same channel (NBCSN)?

Yep, it’s the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale — a race which will decide the championship from among six eligible drivers.

I’m here at Sonoma and am going to be blowing your timelines up about the race, so you might as well watch with me. If you haven’t followed IndyCar much this year or are just a casual fan, here’s a quick guide to the race to get you caught up:

What’s at stake?

Sonoma Raceway is the 17th and final race of the IndyCar season, and six drivers can still win the title. They are the four Team Penske drivers — rising star Josef Newgarden, defending series champ Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves — plus four-time series champion Scott Dixon and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Who has the advantage?

Before answering that, let’s take a look at the current driver point standings.

  1. Josef Newgarden  –Leader–
  2. Scott Dixon -4
  3. Helio Castroneves -23
  4. Simon Pagenaud -35
  5. Will Power -69
  6. Alexander Rossi -85

Those have been updated after Saturday’s qualifying session, because IndyCar awards one bonus point to the pole winner — and Newgarden put down a monster, track-record lap to start from P1.

Still, it’s tough to say who has the edge right now. In Friday’s two practice sessions, Newgarden had the quickest overall time. But in Saturday’s practice, Pagenaud, Dixon and Power all went even faster.

Plus, top five drivers in the point standings were also the top five drivers in final practice (just in a different order). Since they were only separated by 0.44 second, it really could be anyone’s race among the contenders.

So how does the championship race work?

Sonoma is a double points event — one of only two on the schedule, along with the Indy 500. That twist could play a massive role in the outcome of the championship, because the points are soooo close.

At a typical IndyCar race, first place is worth 50 points and second place gets 40. But at Sonoma, it’s 100 for first place and only 80 for second — a 20-point gap between first and second!

That means Newgarden, Dixon and likely Castroneves (depending on bonus points) are all in situations where a Sonoma victory will mean the championship (which has happened the last two years).

And really, Pagenaud isn’t in a bad spot, either (though he could use some help from his competition finishing off the podium). Power and Rossi are much bigger longshots at this point, even if they win.

How did they get to this point?

Newgarden has a series-leading four wins and eight podium finishes this season, but his lead is only four points thanks to a gaffe in the most recent race at Watkins Glen.

After entering the Glen with a 31-point lead over Dixon — thanks to winning three of four races — Newgarden locked up his tires in the pits while avoiding teammate Will Power and slid into the guardrail. That cost him 28 points of his lead, which was whittled to just four.

Dixon has just one win but has made finished on the podium seven times — second in the series. And he’s going up against the entire Penske team, which has been the most consistent this season.

What are they saying?

— Newgarden, who was totally fired up after his track-record lap to get the pole — his first since 2015 — is going into the race with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

“If I drop the ball and totally ball it up this weekend, I’m still going to be pretty happy with this year,” the 26-year-old American said. “That’s not to say I’m going to settle for that or that I’m looking to settle for something like that.

“But the only way I think you can approach this and get the most out of it and try and treat it like any other weekend. The moment you think, ‘Hey, this is championship week — you mess it up, you’re not the champion,’ then I think that can put you in a wrong place mentally.”

— Power, who qualified second, has a fast car but needs some help to pull off his second championship.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said. “I mean, if Scott and Josef have a bad day, I can be right there. Yeah, see how it all plays out.”

— Pagenaud, who won this race en route to the championship last season, is feeling confident after qualifying third.

“Quite satisfied,” he said after his lap. “Overall it’s awesome for Team Penske, 1-2-3-4 once again here. A testament to the team doing such a good job. Nothing’s lost. Tomorrow is a long race. Lots of tire wear. I’m hoping for a really strong showing.”

— Speculation about Castrovenes’ future has been swirling lately, but it would certainly be nice for him to pull off an improbable title at age 42. He’s in a virtual win-and-clinch situation since there it’s a double points race.

“We wanted this championship as bad as anybody,” he said after qualifying fourth. “We do have a chance. We’re going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.”

— Dixon, the best driver of his generation, knows he has his work cut out for him. But it’s not like anyone can dismiss his chances.

“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there,” he said. “I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.”