PLYMOUTH, Wisc — Team Penske won five of the final six races in 2020. That made everyone believe that they’re the ones to beat for this year’s championship. Instead, they’re a remarkable 0-for-9. Its not like they’ve been off though. They’ve been close in the sense that they have a runner-up in five races run this season. They just keep losing races in heartbreaking fashion.
Will Power was second to Alex Palou in the season opener at the Barber Motorsports Park. Josef Newgarden was runner-up a week later on the streets of St. Pete and a week later again in race 2 at Texas. Scott McLaughlin was runner-up between those two races in the first event at Texas.
Then came Indianapolis to where they just struggled all month in the sense they they went 4-6-8-11 in the GMR Grand Prix, then qualified 17-21-26-32 for the Indy 500 and finished 3-12-20-30.
Last weekend in Belle Isle, Power had the race won last Saturday before his car wouldn’t refire following a red flag late in the race. Marcus Ericsson ended up winning that day but even he said that he had nothing for Power if his No. 12 Chevrolet started up as normal and led the field to green like he should have.
On Sunday of last weekend, Newgarden had the race won in leading the first 67 laps but he was on the wrong strategy despite that. He’d finish second and vow that he wouldn’t change anything about his approach or his team moving forward since they’ve been so close. It’s just luck keeping them out of victory lane.
After earning the pole on Saturday for the second straight race and looking like a true favorite, how he would be sure that Detroit doesn’t happen again?
“Yeah, I mean, look, as soon as you go predicting a race, it just does the complete opposite,” he said on Saturday. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been like, Man, today is going to be filled with yellows. We just go green flag to green flag. Then vice versa. I think we’re going to have a green race, it’s just filled with yellows. It’s impossible to predict.
“I think you try and play averages. If you’re up front, you’re going to play probably the most conservative race as far as running it, trying to protect yourself from yellows. One of these races, if you get caught out by one, someone wins in an off sequence, that’s just INDYCAR racing. It sucks, but you can’t do anything about it. It’s just part of the game here.
“Yeah, I don’t know that you can play the prediction game. It’s too hard. You can’t go, Hey, we’re definitely going to have a yellow, it’s going to be at this point, so this is the strategy we’re going to run.”
On Sunday, he led a race-high 32 of 55 laps. He was in control coming to the green on Lap 53 but his car quit on him in heartbreaking fashion.
“Man, you just don’t know what it is about our team right now,” Power said. “We almost have a win in the bag and something just ridiculous happens, like just something that — I don’t know what it was, but things that you couldn’t prep for, something that you couldn’t avoid. It’s like my thing was just a switch, just a weird glitch in the system in Detroit, and I don’t know what his was this time. But yeah, unbelievable. And maybe it wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a restart, but you don’t know.
“They were all things that are not things that have been repeated, know what I mean? Like they’re not constantly the same things, so it’s really hard to — I’ve seen this through the years. It’s just one — you hate to be the pioneer of things that go wrong and then they fix it, which that was me in Detroit. Had a glitch in the system. It hadn’t happened to anyone else, but you being the one to find it really sucks.
“This team, again, a problem we fixed immediately and it won’t happen again. But I just can’t believe the luck that we’re having as a team right now. It blows my mind.”
Newgarden, was third quickest in practice on Friday, fastest on Saturday, won the pole later in the day and led the most laps on Sunday. He didn’t win.
Newgarden, goes from 42 points down at the time while leading with three to go to -84. That’s how big of an issue that was at the end.
The last six races now has seen the driver that has led the most laps not win the race in the end too. Scott Dixon led 163 of 248 laps in Texas 2 but he finished fourth. Romain Grosjean led 44 of 85 laps in the GMR Grand Prix but came home second. Conor Daly led 40 of 200 laps in the Indy 500 but came home 13th. Last weekend in Detroit, Will Power led 37 of 70 laps but was only 20th due to his car not firing under red flag. Josef Newgarden led the first 67 laps but didn’t lead the final three and was runner-up. On Sunday, Newgarden led 32 of 55 but finished 21st.
At Road America, we’ve seen some dominance anyways. Power led 46 of 50 laps in his win in 2016. Newgarden led 53 of 55 laps in his 2018 win. Alexander Rossi led 54 of 55 in his 2019 win. Pato O’Ward led 43 of 55 in Race 2 last year but was second.