Pato O’Ward finished second behind Josef Newgarden in the HyVeeDeals.com 250 presented by DoorDash on Saturday at Iowa Speedway, but it may have felt more like a victory.
O’Ward produced his best finish since he also placed second in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 29. His only better result in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet this season was a victory in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park.
The runner-up result on the .894-mile oval at Iowa kept O’Ward in the thick of the championship hunt. He is sixth in the standings, only 59 points behind leader Marcus Ericsson – a gap of just over a race’s worth of points.
“Really solid points day for us today,” O’Ward said. “Yeah, really happy with our day.”
That strong day was produced by a combination of risk and daring.
O’Ward was forced to inflict more wear on his Firestone tires than usual to climb to second from the fourth starting spot and stay there. He deftly adapted to varying tire strategies of rivals and taking risks when he was advised to play it safe – especially on the four wlld restarts in the 250-lap race.
“Josef had different gearing to us,” O’Ward said. “I’m pretty sure he was aware of that. So, the team told me to do a certain thing, which I did. It was pretty horrendous, and we got passed by two guys, I think.”
So, on the next restart, O’Ward shunned that advice and took a chance.
“In the next one I did the opposite, and it worked,” O’Ward said. “It’s hard to say, right? You don’t know who’s going to be leading you. You don’t know if you’re going to be the one leading.”
The risk paid off. While he never led a lap, his different tactics allowed him to reach and maintain the second place, especially coming off of a rough start when his car wasn’t handling well.
“We were just extremely, extremely loose,” O’Ward said.
But O’Ward used adjustments during pit stops and from inside the cockpit to find success and score hefty points. His desire to be daring – matched with his quick hands behind the wheel – made it all work out.
“It was all about what can we do different to them to be able to just have a shot at getting by them,” O’Ward said. “I had to use my tires a bit much. I think Will (Power) was on the same train, battling with me and (Alex) Palou, Marcus (Ericsson). So, I think we used up our tires a little bit more than what Josef did.”
Better yet, O’Ward knows he has room to improve and has another chance Sunday to do it in the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google, which starts at 3 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network. He’ll take the lessons from today and apply them to a 300-lap race Sunday.
“I just think knowing now what to do, it’s really not too big of an issue,” O’Ward said.