Sunday in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California, Alex Palou closed the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES standing where he’d spent much of the season – on the podium, and again in the No. 10 American Legion Honda.
Driving the chrome version of the Legion livery featuring the Be the One message, Palou finished third to claim his 10th podium finish of his championship season. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had clinched the INDYCAR SERIES season title and Astor Cup a week ago in Portland but showed no signs of holding back on Sunday.
"It’s been an amazing year: five wins and 10 podiums,” said Palou, who won his second season championship in three seasons. “Everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing did an awesome job getting us the cars we needed. And I’m happy to get our second championship together.”
With his showing on Sunday, Palou recorded an average finish of 3.71 this season – the best figure in INDYCAR since 2006. “This was an amazing race,” Palou said. “I can't wait to celebrate with the team. Thank you to all our partners, especially The American Legion. It’s been a tremendous year. On track, it’s been nothing but good times, and I cannot wait for next season to start.”
Palou started the race fifth but took over first place on the seventh lap and again on the 10th. He was dominant from that point on, leading 51 of the first 59 laps before bad luck got in the way.
On Lap 58, David Malukas and Devlin DeFrancesco made side-by-side contact, with Malukas spinning into the gravel adjacent to Turn 3 to trigger the fifth of a race record-tying eight caution periods. Palou was nearing the end of one of his fuel stints when the incident happened, but he couldn’t make it into the pits before the caution lights illuminated. He made his second and final stop on the next lap, Lap 59, and re-entered the race in 15th place with 37 laps to go.
He still was able to make up 12 spots by the end of the race. "The yellow didn't help us, but we got our hands on the second ring,” Palou said. “We were close today, as well. I’m happy with a P3 today and super stoked about a second championship. We have the Astor Cup now.”
Prior to the race, Palou talked with NBC Sports about representing The American Legion and, specifically, Be the One. He shared how an active-duty servicemember attending the opening race of the season spoke with American Legion staff working at the organization’s activation display about thoughts of suicide. He was put in touch with mental health specialists and connected with members of the American Legion Family.
“He’s now surrounded by all The American Legion folks. We saved that life,” Palou said. “I’m so proud and privileged to be racing for a cause … with The American Legion and the Be the One campaign. I think that we’re raising the awareness of the issue. It all starts by just asking our veterans if they need help. You never know. You can be the one to save a veteran’s life today.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon won the race, his third victory in four events, and finished second in the points race. And CGR rookie Marcus Armstrong, whose liveries this year included the No. 11 American Legion Honda, ran near the top of the pack much of the race before closing in the eighth spot.
Armstrong’s finish earned him the series’ Rookie of the Year honor, despite only competing on street and road courses this season. He’ll become a full-time CGR driver in 2024. It was the first time in INDYCAR history a racing team has produced the series championship and runner-up, and the rookie of the year.
"We came home with the Rookie of the Year title,” Armstrong said. “I'm pretty happy about it, considering we missed five races, the ovals. Now I have my first oval test on Wednesday, so let's go."
Driving the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda that featured American Legion branding, Marcus Ericsson closed out his time with Chip Ganassi Racing with a 15h-place finish. The 2023 Indy 500 winner and 2023 runner-up finished the season in sixth place in the points race.
“It was a very messy race,” Ericsson said. “The No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda was feeling amazing all day. Unfortunately, I fell on my own mistake. I was trying to make an overtake and misjudged it. I spun, lost a lap, and from then on, it was just trying to get that lap back all day.
“I'm thankful, though, for the four years with Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 8 crew. There were a lot of emotions. It's not the finish we wanted, but congratulations to Scott on the win."
In the INDY NXT doubleheader over the weekend, CGR developmental driver Kyffin Simpson – also carrying American Legion branding – finished fourth on Saturday after qualifying fifth and then took home 17th on Sunday. Simpson wound up 10th in the series point standings.