PLYMOUTH, Wisc — For the third straight race, Team Penske had an NTT IndyCar Series event won. For the third straight time, they didn’t.
Will Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet didn’t start following a late red flag period in the first race at Belle Isle last Saturday. Josef Newgarden led the first 67 laps a day later on the 2.35-mile street circuit but strategy kept him out of victory lane in the final three laps. Now, in an eight day span, it happened again.
Newgarden, dominated Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix in Road America. He led 32 of 55 laps and was well in command until the final caution flew on Lap 52 when Ed Jones spun in Turn 12. Coincidentally enough, Jones’ yellow helped Newgarden too in the sense that he didn’t have to worry about fuel anymore.
See, Newgarden hit pit lane for the final time of the race on Lap 40. Alex Palou pit one lap later on Lap 41. That extra four miles was going to be close in that Newgarden would have to save some fuel to make it the final 15 laps without stopping.
Others were trying to stretch it too. When Kevin Magnussen stalled on course on Lap 35, Jack Harvey, Conor Daly, Oliver Askew and Simon Pagenaud all hit pit lane to try and make it to the end. They would need one more caution to do so.
Max Chilton had just hit pit road at the time of the yellow while Takuma Sato topped off on Lap 36. They were all on an alternate strategy.
But, without a caution, they’d all lap after lap peel off. Askew, hit pit lane on Lap 52. A few seconds later, Jones spins. If Askew had waited one more lap, he may have won this race and stole a victory.
Talk about bad luck.
His luck pales to Newgarden’s though.
Newgarden, was dealing with some mechanical issues earlier in the race but they eventually went away. While he had the lead on the final restart, his car just quit on him. He went from the best car in the race and a win two laps away from him to 21st, one lap down.
That allowed Alex Palou to pass Newgarden on the outside entering Turn 1 and to never look back. He’d lead the final two laps en route to his second career Indy Car win and taking over the points lead again in the process.
“A win is a win, and it always feels awesome even if it’s your lucky day or just because you have really good pace, but for sure the first win, it’s always awesome just because it’s the first one, and you knew you could win but you never really know if you can win until you win it,” Palou said.
“But yeah, this feels super special, as well. We’ve been close. Indy road course, Detroit, Indy 500, and today I was like, oh, no, we need to get that win.
“It was good, but yeah, as I said, a win is a win. It’s always the best thing.”
Palou, drove a masterful race and was just biding his time waiting on an opportunity to occur like the one that did. He challenged Newgarden hard all race but could never have enough to get by. Then, his No. 10 Honda positioned himself there to do so and earned his seventh top five in 10 races this year to regain the lead by 28 over ninth place finisher Pato O’Ward.
“I don’t know, it was a really good weekend overall,” he said. “We started not super, super good, but we made some progress, and I feel like we always are really good when the weekend ends, and we were getting — every run we were doing with the reds, with the blacks, we were getting even closer to Josef. So I was really happy.
“And then yeah, I don’t know what happened to him, but we took the lead, and that was super exciting, and yeah, we had good power, we had good car setup, and yeah, just super happy.”
Palou said that he felt like he had a great restart anyways.
“It’s always hard going out of Turn 13 just because you have the dip there, but I was good,” he said of the final restart in the end. “I was on my Push-to-Pass, and as soon as I saw I was in fifth gear and I saw I couldn’t get him, I saved my Push-to-Pass, and as soon as I saw that there was something weird, like I was getting a lot of tow I thought, I pressed it again and said, oh, wow.
“So I didn’t really see if he had an issue or not. Obviously I saw later, but at that moment I just thought, oh, wow, we had a lot of power, so I was like, oh, yeah.”
As to what would have happened if Newgarden never had the problem?
“I don’t know. It’s always tough to say,” he said. “I thought we had a chance, but yeah, you never know what could have happened. I think he had a really strong performance during the weekend and also in the race, but we were getting closer each restart, so yeah, I was hoping for a good chance.
“Yeah, I thought during the whole race we were quite strong on the straights, so yeah, I don’t know because we have a really old engine, but HPD did an amazing job of getting that old engine running so fast because we were super strong on all the straights. I knew I could pass him either in Turn 1 or before Turn 12, I thought that was my chance also because it’s a really long straight and I could get a big tow. But I don’t think without the issue he had I would have overtaken him in Turn 1 at that moment.”
Herta, had a wild up and down day. He went from second to sixth in the first stint, to back inside the top five, to right on the back end of the podium and then up to runner-up in the end. He said that he just lacked the pace to win on Saturday but his car was close.
“I think we had third place pace and that was where we were going to finish until Josef had that problem,” Herta said. “Car felt really good. Guys did an amazing job in the pits to gain me a few spots on track and put us on the podium in the second spot.
It was just one of those days where we just didn’t have enough pace. We were down two, three tenths of a lap to Alex and Josef. Especially at the beginning of the race we were struggling. Once the kind of grip came in and our car tightened up a little bit, it helped, but we were still lacking to them.
“You know, I think we kind of maximized what we could have done, but yeah, today for sure wasn’t a day that we were going to win on pace.
“We seemed to lack a little bit of pace to Alex and Josef. They seemed to be the guys to beat.”
It was also Herta’s sixth podium of his career, two of which this season. Herta told me before the season started that his goal to become more of a championship contender this season was to turn those top fives into podiums. That’s the difference in the series in being in the hunt to being the hunted.
“I’ve been struggling to get on the podium when I’m not winning, so it feels nice to finally get one, or my second one in my career,” said Herta on his podium.
“I sure hope so. We definitely have had the speed to do it everywhere that we’ve gone, which is nice, but we just haven’t executed every single part, whether that be strategy or pit stops or me making mistakes on track. Just it hasn’t all come together. It came together today, but we need to be doing it more consistently because we do have really fast race cars and we have the pace to be up front every single weekend.
“It’s just a matter of if we can get it done in the race and have perfect races to get it done every weekend. We’re working on it. It’s getting better.”
Herta won the last time out at Mid-Ohio, so this really is propelling him to what could be a start of a season turnaround for him.
“This will be a big confidence boost for everybody,” he continued. “Fourth place last week in Detroit and then come here and get a second, we’re definitely on the ball. We’ve just got to keep doing it.”
Will Power also feels like his season is starting to turn for him too. He brought his No. 12 Chevrolet home in third for his 82nd career Indy Car podium and third in the last four tries at Road America.
He feels like the Detroit race that got away mixed with this weekend just shows how much they could have gained on the championship.
“I just think about Indy and Detroit, like two massive results of points there,” said Power. “Those two results have put us right back in the championship. Stoked to be third. Pretty fun race, to be honest. It had a bit of everything and good racing and a bit of roughing up.”
Now, he goes to Mid-Ohio to where he also won last year and have five podiums in his last six tries including three of which in the top two.
“Yes, I do. Even Detroit last week, sixth I was really happy with coming from 21st or 20th or whatever it was,” Power said on building momentum now. “And yeah, I was really happy to get my Fast Six this weekend, and I thought this morning if I can get a podium, I’ll be really happy. So finished on the podium and start heading in the right direction.”
Scott Dixon undercut the final stint and put his No. 9 Honda home in fourth while Romain Grosjean earned his second career top five in his No. 51 Honda with a fifth place run.
Chip Ganassi Racing Once Again Shows Race Pace
I wrote on Saturday how Chip Ganassi Racing had to eventually fix their qualifying woes. They didn’t have it last weekend in either race at Belle Isle and once again, they struggled in Road America.
With how Colton Herta is leading the charge for the Andretti group, Alex Palou is doing the same for CGR. He qualified his No. 10 Honda in fifth. It’s his eighth top 10 starting spot in nine tries this season. His other teammates all came from 13th on back.
Palou, was the only one of four CGR drivers to even make it out of the first round of knockout qualifying. Scott Dixon was on 13th in his No. 9 Honda for his worst career starting spot in Road America. It was his third time in the last five races that he failed to get inside the top 10 of the starting lineup though too.
Dixon’s problem is that they’re having issues in every practice. He only completed eight laps in each session this weekend as Dixon said post qualifying that it’s hard to be chasing a car with so few laps on track to get it right.
Marcus Ericsson qualified his No. 8 Honda in 18th. He’s qualified 13th or worse in five of his last six series races.
Jimmie Johnson came from 23rd.
In the race, there they were again in the end. Palou, snagged the win after Josef Newgarden’s mechanical problem on the final restart while Dixon used an undercut strategy to get his 179th career top five finish. He was an 8th-12th place car all day but hit pit lane on Lap 39 for the final time. That was the first among everyone else for the final pit stop.
It paid off.
Dixon, would earn his fifth top five in his last six Road America starts.
Ericsson, brought out the second caution of the day on Lap 23 but charged back up to finish sixth in his No. 8 Honda to give CGR three cars in the top six of the final running order. This was Ericsson’s third top 10 in four tries in Elkhart Lake and 18th career top 10 finish, six of which coming this season alone.
Johnson, spun on Lap 16 and finished out the top 20.
They’ve now won three straight races at Road America and four of the last six here.
Power Adopted Newgarden’s Driving Style/Setup
Will Power is privy to a lot of information on his teammates at Team Penske. See, they all work as one unit and can see any information about each other that they want. So, with his teammate Josef Newgarden dominating the weekend and Power having a front row seat, he decided to change it up.
“I actually adapted his driving style and setup, yeah,” Power said of Newgarden. “I started perfecting it during the race but certainly got halfway there in qualifying.”
A follow up to that was that Power being serious?
“Yep, I changed the way I drive, yep.”
I mean, why not though. Power last won at Road America in 2016. He scored a pair of runner-ups in his last three starts on the 4.014-mile track entering the weekend. But, with Newgarden having won 18 times in his career, being third quickest on Friday in practice, fastest on Saturday morning and winning the pole on Saturday afternoon, Power thought a time for a change was needed.
He was 10th and ninth respectively in practice and qualified fourth. That approach nearly paid off now too.
Penske Now 0-for-9 In 2021
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.
Andretti Guys Get Podium With Herta, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe Affected By Strategy In The End
Colton Herta gave Andretti Autosport another podium on Sunday. At some point, he’s going to need some company from his teammates up front. Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay were looking strong for most of the race with Rossi even battling inside of the top five heading to the final pit sequence, but at the end, there his No. 27 Honda was in just seventh.
That was Rossi’s third seventh place finish in his last five result but he’s yet to score a top five all year too. Hunter-Reay was greatly affected by Takuma Sato, Max Chilton and Oliver Askew’s end of the race pit calls to finish ahead of him. That pushed Hunter-Reay down to 13th in a race that he should have had a top 10.
Hunter-Reay’s best finish all year is 10th and that happened just once. Since Indy, he’s finished 12th in the GP, 22nd in the ‘500, 21st and 11th in Belle Isle and now 13th on Sunday.
James Hinchcliffe went with reds from his second stop on and charged up to 15th.
They’ll get a week off to regroup before going to the track that turned this all around last year in Mid-Ohio.
Herta won Race 2 last year, Rossi was third and second respectively in the two days while Hunter-Reay was fifth and third himself.
Alex Palou led the NTT IndyCar Series points standings leaving Indianapolis. He even held onto the top spot despite a 15th place result in Race 1 last weekend in Belle Isle. While he’d improve to a third place result on Day 2, Pato O’Ward getting a podium in Race 1 and a win in Race 2 propelled him to the lead over Palou by one single point heading to Road America this weekend.
But, with Palou winning Sunday’s race and O’Ward finishing ninth, Palou jumps to the top spot again by 28 points. O’Ward had a consistent day to finish in the top 10 for his sixth top 10 in the last seven races.
Scott Dixon remains in third as he had a Scott Dixon type of day though. Dixon, qualified 13th and remained right around that 10th spot all the way until the final pit stop. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was the first on pit road on Lap 39. That move was the move of the day if you ask me.
He went from around 10th to in fifth place on the final restart with three to go. With Newgarden’s troubles, Dixon propelled to fourth at the finish to earn his 179th career top five result. He did go from -36 to -53, but this was a typical day that Dixon has and is how championships are won in the end.
The thing is for Dixon, he had six top two results in his first eight starts last year. In the last 15 races run, he only has one. He also has just three podiums in that 15 race span, which is why instead of being closer in points, he’s 53 down.
Newgarden went from -42 to -88 with that mechanical issue and is really falling too far out to make a chase at a championship. His Penske teammate of Simon Pagenaud went off strategy in the end and it didn’t work. He went from a sure top 10 to 18th and falls from -56 to -94 heading to the off week.
Rinus VeeKay didn’t lose any positions in points as he will be sixth with Colton Herta going from -97 to -107 following his runner-up.
Next up is Mid-Ohio to where Power and Herta split wins last year. Palou, calls it his second favorite track though while Dixon has six wins over his career on that track. O’Ward has struggled there with Newgarden coming home runner-up to Power in Race 1 last year but also has just two career podiums there as well.
The last six races now has seen the driver that has led the most laps not win the race in the end. 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.
This No. 10 car won the last time out at Road America too with Felix Rosenqvist beating Pato O’Ward in Race 2 last July. Alex Palou won in it again on Sunday to become the first Ganassi driver not named Scott Dixon to win more than once in a single season since Dario Franchitti in 2011.