Penske The Likely Favorites, But Will Newgarden Open The Championship Door This Month Though?

INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves is searching for an unconventional way of getting his fourth NTT IndyCar Series victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He hopes to cross the yard of bricks first in Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET/NBC/IndyCar Radio Network) which would be his fourth victory during his career at the famed track. While that would put him in the category of Indy lore, it would have an * next to it.

See, Castroneves has been trying for eight years now to join Al Unser, AJ Foyt and Rick Mears in the four win club at Indy. But, he wants four wins in the Indy 500. Currently, the popular Brazilian driver has three (2001, 2002, 2009) and so badly wants to add a fourth win to his resume.

But, first things first – Saturday’s 85 Lap race.

Castroneves, will never turn down a chance of climbing the fences. He wants to win the ‘500 on May 26 yes, but he also would love nothing less than to win Saturday’s race first.

This will be Castroneves’ second year doing the Indy “two-off” as he’s finished in the top six in all five of his tries in this race. He’s even led at least seven laps in three of his five starts too.

“I have missed INDYCAR so much since last year and can’t wait to get back on track,” said the popular Brazilian driver. “Being part of Acura Team Penske’s IMSA program is truly amazing, but there is just something about Indianapolis that just defines special. There’s nothing like it because the whole area comes to life with excitement around the INDYCAR Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500. I’ve been lucky enough to win the Indy 500 three times, but still haven’t won on the IMS road course. That’s a big one for me to want to win.”

Plus, his Penske organization has won four straight years in this race and once again should be the team to beat.

Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have combined to win a race in all five years of this event with Pagenaud taking the crown in 2014 and 2016 with Power in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Power, has led 56+ laps in three of his last four IndyCar Grand Prix starts, all being wins, while Pagenaud has four top eight finishes himself.

“With the way last year’s month of May went for myself and the No. 12 Verizon 5G Chevy team, we all really can’t wait to get back (to Indianapolis),” said the defending race winner Power. “Last year was incredible – winning the INDYCAR Grand Prix, bringing home the team’s 200th Indy car win and then to go on and win the Indianapolis 500 was just such a dream come true. We’re going back hungry hoping to repeat both of those wins. On top of that, I’m pretty excited to have this new black look on my Verizon 5G car. It looked great driving around at the test in April. The fans are going to love to see it drive around the track all month long.”

Pagenaud, says he’s been looking forward to this race for the last 12 months.

“I have been waiting for this time since the checkered flag flew last year,” said the Frenchman. “The month of May is full of excitement and anticipation of the Indianapolis 500. We’ve been running strong this season and want to keep that momentum going for the No. 22 Menards Chevy. We’ve had some great success with the INDYCAR Grand Prix with two wins there. It’s time to shine.”

But, for one Penske driver, he’s not had much luck in this race. Josef Newgarden has had such a great start to the 2019 season, which makes him uneasy about giving up points this Month of May.

See, Newgarden has never finished in the top 10 in the IndyCar Grand Prix. His best result was two 11th place runs in each of the last two years here.

Newgarden, currently leads Alexander Rossi by 28 points and Scott Dixon by 33. Takuma Sato is next best in fourth but 50 points back while Ryan Hunter-Reay is 70 points out. That’s a pretty good advantage after four races already.

The reason though is because Newgarden hasn’t finished worse than fourth yet. In fact, he has three top two finishes in four tries. If you go back to his win in Road America last June, he has 12 consecutive top 10 finishes. That’s a tough driver to beat.

But, Indy could be the place where it ends up being all for not. In the Indy 500, Newgarden does have three top 10 finishes in his last four tries, but only one of them was in the top five. In seven overall ‘500 starts, he’s finished 19th or worse in four of them including leading a combined 17 laps.

“I’m so excited for the month of May in Indianapolis,” said Newgarden. “It was really great having a break with some time off to spend at home, but I can’t wait to get back on track. And it’s May in Indy. Indianapolis is truly a special place that I called home for a while. Everything about the month is so great there and it’s always so exciting. The INDYCAR Grand Prix is a race I’d love to win to get it all started. I think a lot of drivers are going to be strong, so it will be a challenge but myself and the No. 2 Fitzgerald USA Chevy crew couldn’t be more up to that challenge. We’re ready.”

Compare his stats that to someone like Scott Dixon who finished runner-up in the IndyCar Grand Prix in each of the last two years and was third in last year’s ‘500 and you get a driver who could come out of the Month of May with the lead in the points standings.

Dixon, has three podiums in four tries this year and while has hasn’t won a race since last July in Toronto, he does have six top three finishes in his last eight starts overall. He also has 16 top 10 finishes in his last 18 tries with 15 of those being results in the top five. That’s why he’s always tough to beat because even if he doesn’t win, he’s around the top five. In the IndyCar Grand Prix, Dixon has four straight top 10 finishes.

Rossi could close that gap too. The Andretti driver has three top five finishes in four tries this season and 11 straight top 10 finishes himself. In the road course race at Indy, Rossi has a top 10 finish in all three tries including a fifth place run last year. For the ‘500, he won in 2016 as a rookie and has finished seventh and fourth respectively since.

If Hunter-Reay in fifth can get any luck, then he will be too. Going back to last season, Rossi’s Andretti teammate has five top 10 finishes in seven tries including four of those being in the top five itself. He has two podiums in the IndyCar Grand Prix including a third place run in 2017. For the ‘500, he won in 2014 and finished fifth last year. He’s finished in the top five in half of his last six Indy 500 tries.

Plus, all three of those drivers are part of the Honda camp. To start 2019 off with, Honda has won three of four events and have taken 12 of the last 15 checkered flags first.

Newgarden, needs to salvage the Month of May.

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