FORT WORTH — Simon Pagenaud was already a star. He’s won 13 Indy car races and the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series championship.
Pagenaud’s victory in the Indianapolis 500 last month made Norman a star too.
Norman is Pagenaud’s 3-year-old Jack Russell terrier. Norman barked it up in victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then went to the Empire State Building on Pagenaud’s Indy 500 champion’s tour.
“I’ve always had dogs my whole life,” Pagenaud said Thursday morning in downtown Fort Worth. “I’ve always loved it because it’s easy to get down after a tough day. When you go home and you see that dog just happy as he can be, welcoming you at home. You leave for five minutes, you come back — he’s just as happy.
“To me, the love of a dog is everything.”
Norman and Pagenaud are now in Denton County for Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600K at Texas Motor Speedway.
“He’s here this weekend. He comes to every race with us. He’s our son,” Pagenaud said. “He’s been around cars his whole life.”
Pagenaud hasn’t had many tough days at the racetrack lately, and Norman’s fine with that, too.
Pagenaud won the IndyCar Grand Prix on Indy’s road course in May, then won the pole for the 500. After his greatest race victory on Memorial Day weekend, the Frenchman entered last week’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix atop the season standings.
He’s also had good days at TMS. In seven career starts in Fort Worth, Pagenaud has five top-10 results and a worst finish of 13th.
“I’ve always loved this racetrack; I’ve always loved the race. It’s really action-packed. You really have to be ‘head on shoulders,’ because it’s intense,” he said. “That’s my kind of forte. I really want to get the cowboy hat and the guns in victory lane. That would be a sweet time. To me, this is oval racing — this kind of race is what oval racing is all about.”
The last three years in succession, Pagenaud has finished the DXC 600 in fourth place, third and second.
“It’s a track where you have to take care of your tires,” Pagenaud said. “One of my qualities is to look after your tires and think ahead.
“I also like this track because you have opportunities to change your [racing] line, depending on what the guy in front of you is doing, so it’s more open to thinking and curiosity on lines.”
At the Detroit doubleheader, Pagenaud finished sixth and 17th in the No. 22 Chevy.
“Detroit and Texas are a pivotal moment of the season where you establish yourself in the hierarchy but you also show your strengths,” he said. “If you leave Texas in the top three, you’re going to be contending for the championship.”
Pagenaud sits third in points, 25 behind Team Penske teammate and standings leader Josef Newgarden and 10 behind Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport. Defending TMS winner Scott Dixon is in fourth place, 27 points behind Pagenaud.
“It’s one of the classic Indy car tracks, in my opinion,” Newgarden said. “Texas Motor Speedway is one of the places you want to see the cars under the lights — they look fast, they spark, they’re just really exciting.”
His teammate agreed about the race’s appeal to fans.
“It’s fast, it’s loud and it smells great, and it’s about waking up all your senses,” Pagenaud said.
Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist has limited experience on oval tracks and said Indy was tough, with a crash in practice and a crash late in the 500. He was 20th of 22 drivers in final practice Friday at TMS.
“My first oval test was here at Texas Motor Speedway a couple of months ago, so I actually feel pretty good coming here,” Rosenqvist said. “That’s what it’s all about — you have to get into it to learn it quick.”
While Charlie Kimball has been in the series since 2011, his England-based team, Carlin, only moved to the top level of American open-wheel racing last season.
“It was our third oval race ever last year [at TMS],” Kimball told the Denton Record-Chronicle recently. “We were close to a top-10, and we didn’t know what we didn’t know about ovals.
“I think we’re further ahead than we were last year, and I’m excited to get back down here in the [No. 23 Chevy] and see how much progress we’ve actually made.”
The series has been rolling nonstop since arriving at Indy at the beginning of May. After running at TMS, the drivers will get a week off before racing June 23 at Road America.
Pagenaud said he plans to use the short break to get back into the gym for training, reply to the 2,000 messages he received after winning the Indy 500 and maybe throw himself a bone.
“I’m going to go on my boat,” he said. “I’m going to relax on the water, put some music on and just chill with [fiancee Hailey McDermott] and Norman.”