INDIANAPOLIS — Roger Penske had a difficult mindset for himself this weekend. First, he’s the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the man running the NTT IndyCar Series. Having fans back here at 16th and Georgetown was fantastic. Having the two Shootouts to shape the front and back of the field for next Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) and who was in them was great for business.
Penske said that Saturday’s crowd was the largest here for a Saturday qualifying show since 2016 and the fact that this year’s happened during a pandemic still was telling. But, on the flip side, Penske also owns a team in the series and has an alliance with another.
He shows up with four cars of his own and a fifth for Paretta Autosport. One of his own cars as well as the Paretta car made up two of the five spots in the Last Row Shootout. Only three of those five cars were going to make the show with the other two going home.
That was stressful for the Captain.
Luckily for him, both of those cars took spots into the field of 33 as Will Power and Simona de Silvestro will race next Sunday. That has Penske breathing a sigh of relief now.
On the promoter side he’s ecstatic. On the owner of a team side, he was stressed.
“I thought a lot about that last night,” Penske admitted. It is what it is. We were here in ’95 and had a similar situation. It’s over, now let’s go race.
Penske told me that Juan Pablo Montoya won this race for him in 2015 from the back so he wouldn’t count them out just yet. It’s just that they’ll need to be Penske perfect next Sunday to do so.
“We’re going to have some luck and some good strategy. We’re going to have to work hard to get to the front with the other guys. Our race setups seem to be good but you never know.”
Penske also noted that the format is great, the crowd was great and his number one goal was accomplished.
“I think the format was great. The way that they can go back out and to hear the fans,” he told me. “Then with Simona, to have a woman in this race was one of really my number one goals after last year when we didn’t have one in the race. That’s one thing that I can say that I couldn’t feel better about.”
“I think if you look at the numbers, yesterday was the best Saturday since 2016. In a world that’s upside down with COVID, I’d say we made some progress.
Penske, bought the car from Juncos this offseason and leased it to Paretta this winter to start up this team. They had bump day drama like Kaiser and Juncos did that day two years ago, the last time we had bumping too, when Kaiser and the little team in Juncos bumped out the big and mighty McLaren team with Fernando Alonso as the last qualifier of the session that year.
Alonso and both Carlin cars (Max Chilton, Pato O’Ward) were bumped from the field in 2019 when they got one attempt each. James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were each bumped from the field one year earlier in 2018.
This year, everyone got multiple attempts to get in the field, but the trio laid down quick times that neither Kimball nor Enerson could beat.
De Silvestro is in and says this is the best car that she’s ever had here.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s like climbing a mountain and getting to the top and looking around to see how beautiful it is. It’s just amazing and a testament to everybody working hard overnight, digging in and never giving up. That’s what it is. And that’s what got us here and that’s what got us onto the grid today.”