BALTIMORE -- With all due respect, Simon Pagenaud's second race win of the season was not the lead story coming out of INDYCAR's Baltimore Grand Prix weekend.
Not even close.
Instead, people are talking about another crash-marred IZOD IndyCar Series race on a Mickey Mouse street course, capped by a controversial incident between Team Penske's Will Power and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing that fired another salvo into Dixon's championship hopes.
Tension was already high between the Ganassi and Penske organizations in the wake of last week's race at Sonoma Raceway, when Dixon was denied a chance for the win when he was penalized after hitting a Penske crewman during his final pit stop. Some observers believe Penske tire changer Travis Law was deliberately trying to hinder Dixon's pit exit, and INDYCAR responded quickly by drafting a new rule this week that penalizes a driver if his pit crew appears to delay or obstruct another competitor.
This week, the contact occurred on the track instead of in the pits. Dixon started from pole position but had dropped to fourth place after being spun out by Graham Rahal. Heading to the green flag for a Lap 53 restart, Dixon jinked to his right to try to pass Power, but almost simultaneously, Power also swerved to the right to try to pass Sebastien Bourdais. But Dixon's car was already there, and it got pinched hard into the wall.
With memories of last week fresh in their minds, Dixon and the Ganassi team believed that Power's move might have been intentional, in an effort to help out championship leader Helio Castroneves. Power said he didn't check his mirrors, and, in fact, was surprised to learn he had even made contact with Dixon.
"I know what it looks like, but why would I want to put myself in the wall?" Power told ESPN.com. "I feel badly. I had no clue he was there and I feel so terrible for him. I didn't know he was there -- I can't say anything else.
"It's all bad all around," Power added. "I ruined two good days and I feel bad for the guys. Dixon is not going to want to talk to me, but it was not intentional. It's a very bad situation."
Dixon was surprisingly sanguine after ending up 19th on a day when his championship rival Castroneves struggled to a ninth-place finish. Dixon is now 49 points behind Castroneves with three races remaining.
"I used the overtake, got a run on Will and went to the inside and he just smashed me straight into the wall," Dixon said. "There can't be any kind of excuse for that.
"It's tough to swallow. Two weeks in a row, it's been a pretty rough deal for us. Obviously we'll try to bounce back."
Power lost several laps having his car repaired, and INDYCAR assessed him a drive-through penalty for causing avoidable contact. But the damage was done, and Dixon's disdain for series officials -- particularly race director Beaux Barfield -- was evident.
"It just seems a bit ridiculous," Dixon said. "It seems like everything we do, we get penalized for it and nothing happens to those [Penske] cars. I know Derrick [Walker, INDYCAR president of operations and competition] is trying to do the best he can. Beaux ... I don't even know what planet that guy is on."
Ganassi managing director Mike Hull minced few words when he offered ESPN.com his view on what happened.
"I think it was pretty obvious," Hull said. "Those two guys were racing hard, and I firmly believe Will knew he was there -- particularly with what we heard [Penske Racing president] Tim Cindric tell Will on the radio. He coached him through what the answer should be. So we feel that he knew Scott was there.
"There's a lot at stake for us; there's a lot at stake for Penske Racing. I expect more out of Penske Racing than that. And secondly, I expect more out of INDYCAR than what we saw today. I would hope this week that INDYCAR would do something as a reaction to what happened today here in Baltimore."
Cindric was unrepentant after the race.
"Just like last week, everybody is going to believe what they want to believe instead of the facts," he told reporters. "Nobody needed that. Will had no idea. He said he had no idea he was there and he went sideways. He never looked in the mirror, he had a good run on Bourdais and never thought someone would have the run on him.
"I think it's natural for them to make some assumptions there. But for them to challenge the integrity of our guys and call Travis Law out the way they did at Sonoma, I don't agree with that approach. I'm 100 percent sure that neither Travis or Will have done anything intentional. Everybody learns from things like that. Everybody has their own sides of the story and will see it differently, but not right now."
After all that happened to Dixon, Castroneves' bumpy run to ninth place felt like a victory. Helio's troubles started at the first corner when he broke his car's nose wings by running into the car ahead of him. It marked the first of three nose changes for the Brazilian, who also served a drive-through penalty for hitting one of his own crewmen.
I used the overtake, got a run on Will and went to the inside and he just smashed me straight into the wall. There can't be any kind of excuse for that. It's tough to swallow.
"-- Scott Dixon
"My guys never gave up and I can't believe we finished in the top 10," Castroneves said. "I'm just glad Roger Penske wasn't here to see this."
Whether it was his own team's performance or the Baltimore race in general, Penske wouldn't have been happy with what he saw. One-third of the race's 75 laps were run behind the pace car during the six full-course yellows.
The trouble, as usual during IndyCar street races, came on the double-file restarts. Almost every one resulted in some kind of a first-corner fracas, leaving frayed tempers by the end of the 2½ hour contest that was staged in intense heat and humidity.
"It was like six races worth of incidents, there's so many things that happened," said Josef Newgarden, who finished a career-best second for Sarah Fisher Hartmann Racing.
"This isn't what you want to see -- this many cautions for the fans, and this many wrecked cars," added James Hinchcliffe, who finished seventh despite making numerous pit stops to repair damage caused on restart accidents.
With cars bumping, spinning and bashing on nearly every restart, the middle portion of the contest turned into a farce until a competitive race finally broke out in the final 10 laps. But even that wasn't without controversy, as Pagenaud and eventual third-place finisher Bourdais banged wheels several times as they disputed the lead.
Bourdais and Power both called for INDYCAR to reconsider using double-file restarts at the especially tight street circuits like Baltimore and Long Beach.
"Everybody arrives at the first corner locking wheels and running into the back of each other," Bourdais said. "You cannot make the turn -- it's inevitable. I just didn't know what to do. If you were not aggressive, you were going to get run into. If you were aggressive, you took the chance to hit someone. It was very, very dodgy.
"I think it was a pretty exciting show and everything. But I don't know what the fans want to see -- racing or crashes. At the end of the day, when it's just a series of incidents after incidents, it reflects poorly on everybody. We just look like idiots, and I don't think that's the best."
Besides championship leader Castroneves, the only man smiling at the end of the Baltimore race was Pagenaud, who added a win to the one he scored earlier this year in the second race of the Detroit doubleheader.
Coupled with misfortune for defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (who retired with electrical problems), Pagenaud moved up to third place in the overall standings, 70 points behind Castroneves.
"It was obviously a difficult day for everybody, with lots of contact," Pagenaud said. "Everybody is getting pretty excited as the season comes to an end.
"I saw Dixon and Power, they were all out, and [Dario] Franchitti, so I thought it was my time, really. I did everything I could. I honestly went for the win or nothing, and it paid off. It was a big opportunity today to grab and muscle it a little bit. I was pretty aggressive, but it worked out really well."