Simon Pagenaud drives down the front stretch en route to winning the Grand Prix of Baltimore. (Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

As the debris cleared and Simon Pagenaud surveyed both the wreckage and the survivors still in contention in Sunday’s IndyCar Series race at the Grand Prix of Baltimore, a simple thought came to the 29-year-old Frenchman.

“I knew I was on fresher tires than the guys around me. I knew I had a faster car, but we needed to get going,” Pagenaud said.

Aware that many of the circuit’s biggest names had left the 2.04-mile track for good or were well back in the pack — from pole sitter Scott Dixon to defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay to three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti to points leader Helio Castroneves to 2011 champion Will Power — Pagenaud said he “ended up pushing as hard as I could.”

Passing 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan after the next-to-last yellow flag was lifted and doing the same to Marco Andretti after the final restart, Pagenaud’s No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorports Honda pushed to the front and held off young American Josef Newgarden and fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais to win the crash-filled 75-lap race by just over four seconds.

The victory was the second this season for Pagenaud and helped him leapfrog from fifth to third in the season points standings behind Castroneves, who finished ninth, and Dixon, whose race ended when he was cut off by archrival Power on the 53rd lap. Andretti, who held the lead from lap 57 until the final restart on lap 69, faded to 10th.

Summing up the race’s many collisions and restarts after his best IndyCar Series finish ever, the 22-year-old Newgarden said, “It was like six races worth of incidents.”

Bourdais, whose No. 7 Dragon Racing Chevrolet led from laps 32 to 57 after being spun out in one of several crashes on Turn 1, called it “the usual Baltimore chaos, and it was just one restart after another, and it was just survival.”

Pagenaud said the late yellow flags actually turned out to be a blessing because it helped him “rest and recover from a long running of the green” and gave his worn-out brakes a chance to cool off as well.

After the final restart, Pagenaud said he thought, “Okay, this is my second chance. You never get a second chance in racing, so you’ve got to grab this one.

“I had to go for it. It was a big opportunity today to grab and muscle a little bit.”

— Baltimore Sun