Pagenaud tops Penske teammate Newgarden in autograph battle

Josef Newgarden speaks during a media availability for the IndyCar Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis Thursday, May 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The remnants of Team Penske’s autograph battle can be found all around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Simon Pagenaud’s signature adorns a giant poster of teammate and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden hanging outside the famed track. Newgarden’s autograph is affixed to a street sign bearing Pagenaud’s name.

The duo traded exchanged ink for two months, pranking each other by secretly signing the other’s belongings. It began as a joke, grew in frequency and intensity, gained traction on social media and ended with an epic stunt involving the local Speedway Police Department.

Pagenaud delivered the knockout blow last week when he devised a plan to have a police officer pull Newgarden over for an illegal U-turn and give him a ticket for an alleged expired tag. When the officer handed Newgarden the ticket, it had Pagenaud’s signature on it. Pagenaud popped up on the passenger side of the vehicle and said: ”Your move, bro.”

”That was impressive,” a stunned Newgarden said. ”That’s super impressive.”

Newgarden conceded defeat a few days later.

The whole thing started in late March when Pagenaud signed Newgarden’s helmet , which he forgot to retrieve following a photo shoot, and tweeted the video. Newgarden fired back by signing Pagenaud merchandise and his car on display at the Indianapolis International Airport.

It escalated from there, with Pagenaud signing Newgarden’s front door , his shoes and the inside of his racing suit.

Newgarden countered with autographs on Pagenaud’s newly painted house , under the seat of his race car and on the windows of his motorhome .

”I’m looking at my Twitter, and I get this video. He’s outside signing my house, which is freshly painted white,” Pagenaud said. ”And I couldn’t be mad because it was such a good move.”

Newgarden was so stealthy that even Pagenaud’s dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Norman, didn’t hear him sneaking around outside. The autograph is still on Pagenaud’s house.

”It’s going to rise in value, especially if he wins Indy,” Pagenaud said.

The teammates have long taken part in the ultra-competitive Penske Games that include numerous drivers spanning several series. But this was a one-on-one battle that got so out of control that Pagenaud even signed Newgarden’s mother’s left arm .

”We just like poking each other,” Pagenaud said. ”I know Josef. If I poke him a little more, he’s so competitive he’s going to poke back.”

No longer, though.

Pagenaud won the battle with the police prank.

As Newgarden drove through the city with his girlfriend, two blacked-out police cars pulled him over shortly after the U-turn and told him his tag was expired. Newgarden tried to talk his way out of a ticket by telling one officer he had just gotten the SUV from the dealer because his other vehicle had an oil leak and he had no idea the tag was expired.

Little did he know it was all part of an elaborate setup that had been recorded by GoPro cameras placed inside Newgarden’s car in what Pagenaud called ”a bit of a shady move.”

Newgarden later said he won’t even try to top that one.

”You can’t,” Newgarden said. ”Someone has to win at the end of the day, you know?”

Added Pagenaud: ”Up until then, you were looking really, really strong.”

”It was a close race, and look, we always have to have a winner,” Newgarden responded. ”Honestly, I don’t know how you top what he did. … Simon has put in effort like nobody’s business. He recruited people and talent and teams. I don’t have the time or the energy to top what he’s done. There’s no way it’s getting done. We’ve reached the end.”

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