MADISON, Ill — Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 was a rough afternoon for the Team Penske group. It all got started before the drop of the green flag when Simon Pagenaud was involved in an opening lap crash before the green flag even dropped. See, rookie Alex Palou dropped to the low line at the start thinking the green was going to be waved. Pagenaud, followed.
Unfortunately, while Pagenaud noticed that the green wasn’t out yet and slowed up, another rookie in Oliver Askew behind him didn’t. He ran into the back of Pagenaud and then Pagenaud hit Alexander Rossi in a chain reaction crash.
“Definitely not fun out there,” Pagenaud said. “I just feel sorry for Chevy and for Menards. I think we had a good car today and never even got a chance to really test it for tomorrow. That was a little too much excitement for the start of the race at the back. The front of the pack slowed down; I don’t know if it was the accordion affect or whatever that was. We had to pull out of line, and all of a sudden someone hit us from behind. It is what it is, but it’s very unfortunate. You aren’t going to win the race in the first corner. People just need to be more patient. We’ll be back tomorrow.”
While the first couple of stints then looked like Pagenaud’s teammates would contend for top five’s, none of the three ended up in the top 10 when things were all said and done.
Pagenaud, earned his first DNF in over two years. His 38 race streak of running at the finish ends on Saturday. He lost over 100 points in two races in the standings too as he went from -54 entering the Indy 500 to -163 heading into Sunday’s second race of the twinbill.
For the other two, last year, Josef Newgarden was well on his way to a potential win in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Then, a caution came out in the middle of the final pit sequence and hurt his track position.
On Saturday, it happened again. This time, Newgarden was in the hunt to win, but a top five finish was likely. Same for his teammate Will Power.
Power, led the first 62 laps of the race before pitting for the first time, but Pato O’Ward cycled to the lead after the first pit sequence. Power, fell to third. He’d remain there with Jack Harvey behind him in fourth and Newgarden behind Harvey in fifth.
The trio of Power, Harvey and Newgarden all pit at the halfway point hoping to undercut Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon. Unfortunately for them, a caution came out for moisture in the middle of the sequence and cost them top fives again.
They were a lap down at the time of the caution and able to get their laps back when the leaders at the time pit. But, they had to pit under that caution too so they can top off which ruined any shot at a race win.
Newgarden was 12th, Power 17th.
Newgarden, went from -84 in points to -117. Power, is ninth in the points too.
“That was a frustrating race for the Hitachi team,” said Newgarden. “That caution came out totally at the wrong time, and we lost all of our track position and everything we’d worked for up to that point.
“The team had great stops, and we gained some positions on each of our first two pit stops. I think without the caution, we would have cycled out in the right position and been up there in the top three and got to battle it out.
“Instead, the caution ruined our day, and we were just fighting from behind. The Hitachi car was good, and Chevy brought some great power. Just nothing you can do when the caution falls. This just makes me more hungry to go out there tomorrow and win the race.”
Power shared Newgarden’s frustrations.
“That was not the race that Verizon, Chevrolet or my team deserved out there today,” said the pole sitter. “Our car was pretty good. It was really hard to get close to guys and hard to pass when you got around them. A lot of us were just running the same speed. So, when it’s like that, it’s all about track position, and we lost ours with that caution.
“The race was over after that. Then we had a tire go down, and that was that. We just have to go back after it tomorrow at this point.”
So, can they make up for this on Sunday? Newgarden and Power start 2-3. Pagenaud rolls off eighth for three of the top eight starting spots belonging to Penske drivers.
Saturday was just a day of bad luck all around for them. Maybe Sunday will go better. This group had won four straight Gateway races but are 0-for-2 since.