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Romain Grosjean challenges ‘top guys’ at Texas, flashing oval skills (to some’s dismay)

BY Nate Ryan | NBC Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas – Romain Grosjean was pleased to stun the field with his newfound oval prowess at Texas Motor Speedway, but two of his IndyCar rivals felt he pulled too many surprises.

Grosjean enjoyed one of the strongest oval races of his NTT IndyCar Series career Sunday, leading two laps (on Laps 220-221 of 250) and running at the front before crashing with two laps to go. According to the official lap chart, Grosjean was in the top five from Lap 62 to Lap 225 for all but a handful of laps.

“It’s not something you would think of yourself saying, ‘Romain Grosjean winning on an oval,’ right?” Grosjean, who hadn’t raced on an oval before August 2021 at Gateway, told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns after his 14th-place finish. “But we were up there. I was with the top guys. Very proud of the effort we’ve made. Very proud of the work we’ve done.”

The race was IndyCar’s best at Texas in several years as drivers capitalized on the addition of several hundred pounds of downforce. With their cars packed up tightly, Texas unfolded with the enthralling action of the vintage pack races that were the track’s trademark in the 2000s.

Grosjean has posted video clips of his 10 best passes during the race in which he dueled with the podium of Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou, as well as fifth-place finisher Scott Dixon and Colton Herta (Grosjean’s Andretti Autosport teammate was seventh).

While the racing was crowd-pleasing, it didn’t sit entirely well with Dixon, a five-time winner who has been racing at Texas for 20 years.

“It was just people were chaotic, too, man,” Dixon told Brad Gillie of IndyCar Radio. “Grosjean was all over the show out there.”

Asked by NBC Sports if it was fun to race in such a wild environment, Dixon said, “With some people it is.”

What about Grosjean?

“Some others, no,” Dixon replied. “Yeah.”

Alex Palou, Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, also said Grosjean was among the more difficult drivers to race with comfort at close to 230 mph.

“There were some drivers completely fine,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Like Pato, Newgarden, Scott. It was easy to run side by side. There were some others that would move a little more and would cut on exits, and you would have to check up, and somebody would overtake you.”

Grosjean ultimately lost control in Turn 2 after being passed by fourth-place finisher David Malukas, who took the high line as the pair of second-year IndyCar drivers barely touched wheels.

“Maybe I picked up understeer, maybe David cut a little bit the line to get a good exit,” Grosjean told Burns. “We made contact and that was it. Oh well. Yeah. A bit difficult to digest right now. We had a good car. We had a fast car. We were good all the way. Got very unlucky at one point in the race with the traffic and the backmarkers, but that’s ovals. Apart from that, we had very strong pace.”

It was the first time Grosjean had crashed out of an oval race since a 31st in last year’s Indy 500. He finished in the top 10 of both Iowa Speedway races and had a 13th in his last oval start at Gateway.

Malukas, meanwhile, built on his second place at Gateway last year. Sunday at Texas marked the Dale Coyne Racing/HMD Motorsports driver’s second-best finish in IndyCar.

“My new word for this week is going to be beautiful chaos,” Malukas told Burns in a postrace NBC Sports interview. “I loved it. I was having a blast. We were going inside outside. We were with the Big Three. All these big names. And it’s ‘Little Dave’ going inside outside.

“I was having a blast. Really great racing. Very aggressive. But everybody still gave just enough space to make sure we all got through safely but also put on a good show.”

After crashing in the first two races of 2023, Grosjean wants to put on a good show while reaching the checkered flag April 16 in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

He started on the pole position of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and led 31 laps before being taken out of the season opener in a collision with Scott McLaughlin.

“We didn’t finish the race and that will happen,” Grosjean said. “But we need to start finishing them.”

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