Will Penske Get Back To Winning Ways?
Heading into the Month of May, Team Penske was off to an undefeated start to the 2022 season. They were the team that everyone was talking about to win this year’s Indy 500. They had won each of the 1st 3 races, started on the front row in 4 of the 5 and have taken 6 of the 15 podiums spots available.
They’re winless since.
They went from 2-3-4 in points entering the Month of May with Scott McLaughlin (-3), Josef Newgarden (-9) and Will Power (-10) to 4th (Power), 5th (Newgarden) and 7th (McLaughlin).
Power lost 14 points in going from -10 to -24, Newgarden went from -9 to -52 with McLaughlin suffering the biggest setback in going from -3 to -64. That’s a loss of 61 points in a 2 race span. Can they get back to their winning ways on Sunday in Belle Isle?
Newgarden starts on the pole and is their best chance at victory. However, the previous 2 times he’s started on the pole here he didn’t win. Penske also has just 1 Belle Isle win in the last 8 races and only 2 in the last 12 overall. In saying that, they’re also 2-for-2 on street course races this season with McLaughlin winning the season opener in St. Pete and Newgarden in Long Beach.
Also, they very well could have swept both Belle Isle races last year too. Will Power was leading before that fluke red flag with just a handful of laps left and while sitting idle on pit road during the period, his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet wouldn’t start handing the win off to Ericsson. A day later, Newgarden led the first 67 laps but on the wrong tire strategy and a late race caution helped Pato O’Ward sail by him to lead the final 3 laps.
Can DCR or MSR Take It To The Big Teams?
We’ve had 8 different drivers win the last 14 street course races in general but they all hail from either Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or Arrow McLaren SP. However, 4 of the top 6 starting spots belong to Dale Coyne Racing and Meyer Shank Racing.
DCR saw David Malukas be 5th in Saturday morning’s practice and qualified his No. 18 Dallara-Honda in 6th. Takuma Sato was 11th in both sessions this weekend and will start on the front row in 2nd.
MSR though has been even better. Simon Pagenaud was 4th and 2nd respectively in the two practices and also qualified his No. 60 Dallara-Honda in 3rd. His teammate Helio Castroneves was 7th and 4th himself in his No. 06 Dallara-Honda and starts 4th.
Castroneves now has 9 straight top 4 starting spots here in Belle Isle. For Pagenaud, this is a great chance for him to continue his ascension in points. He entered the Month of May 12th in the standings but after a runner-up in the GMR Grand Prix and an 8th place run in the Indy 500, he improved to 8th entering this weekend. The 2016 series champion has 4 top 11 finishes in the last 5 races on the year and will start 3rd on Sunday.
Chip Ganassi Racing starts 8th (Marcus Ericsson), 9th (Scott Dixon), 18th (Alex Palou) and 22nd (Jimmie Johnson). Team Penske has the pole (Josef Newgarden) but also 10th (Scott McLaughlin) and 16th (Will Power). AMSP has 5th (Pato O’Ward) and 26th (Felix Rosenqvist).
For most drivers in the paddock, there’s pre Indy 500 and post Indy 500. You really don’t start looking at points until after. I mean partially is because the season is still young by time you get to Memorial Day weekend and also the fact that you get qualifying points and double points scored for the ‘500 too.
So, as we head to Belle Isle for just 1 race not 2 this weekend, you’ve got to look at how the standings sit.
Marcus Ericsson leads AMSP’s Pato O’Ward by 13 points. Both combined to win the doubleheader weekend here last year. Defending series champion Alex Palou is 3rd just 14 points arrears. Will Power is 4th (-24) as the Indy 500 was the first time all season that he didn’t score a top four result. Josef Newgarden (-52) is 5th while Scott Dixon (-60) is behind in 6th.
Between Ericsson, O’Ward, Newgarden and Dixon, the 4 drivers who make up 4 of the top 6 spots in points have won each of the last 4 Belle Isle races including 5 of the last 6 in general. Then it’s to Road America to where Palou, Dixon, Newgarden and Power have combined to win 5 of the last 7 races there.
Between the top 7 in points, 6 belong to Penske and Ganassi. The two organizations have combined to win 13 of the last 14 series titles and if you throw in Andretti Autosport, the trio has won every series title since 2003. They hold 8 of the top 11 spots in points.
However, AMSP has a pair of drivers in Pato O’Ward (2nd) and Felix Rosenqvist (9th) too and are the best option to breakup this Penske, Ganassi and Andretti party.
The thing is, only Newgarden (1st) and O’Ward (5th) will start in the top 3 Rows on Sunday. Ericsson will roll off 8th and is hoping to become the 1st driver since Arie Luyendyk in 1997 to win the Indy 500 and the race after.
Since 2011, the Indy 500 winner has an average finish of 10.2 in the doubleheader races that follow Indianapolis (Dan Wheldon didn’t compete in Texas in 2011) and has only finished on the podium twice in that span – Dario Franchitti finished second at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in 2012, and Will Power finished second in the second race at Belle Isle in 2018.
It’s been 23 years since Arie Luyendyk won the Indianapolis 500 and the race that followed it at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997, and that was just the fifth time a driver had won the “500” and the race that immediately followed it since 1980.
Also, we’ve not had a driver win both the Indy 500 and the season championship in the same season since 2010. Marcus Ericsson is hoping to buck both trends.
He won his first career race at this very track last year. It’s also the site of his first INDYCAR podium in 2019. Both of Ericsson’s previous wins in the series prior to last weekend were last year on street courses. But, will the lack of sleep and routine affect him this weekend?
Palou will start 18th and Power in 16th. Can they make up ground?
Simon Pagenaud is also another one to watch. He has 4 top 11 finishes in his last 5 races and went from 12th in points to 8th. He rolls off 3rd on Sunday too.
Honda Beating Chevy In Their Own Backyard, But Chevy Eyeing 100th Win Since Return To Series in 2012
Chevy may have went 1-2 on Friday but Honda took the next 5 spots and 10 of the top 13 in Session 1. On Saturday morning, it was Honda’s turn to go 1-2 and take 4 of the top 5 spots. For qualifying, they put 4 cars in the Fast 6 and have 9 of the top 12 starting spots for the race.
Is this Honda’s race to lose again?
Chevy started off 4-0 on the season but Honda swept the Month of May in Indy. They’ve also won 4 of the last 6 races in Motor City and would love nothing more to pick up a 3rd straight win on the season on Sunday too.
The thing is, Chevy has scored 99 wins since coming back to INDYCAR in 2012. A win on Sunday would mark 100 and they’d do so with the backdrop of the Chevy tower soaring above the track to the south.
Can Power/Palou Move Up?
Alex Palou had 4 straight top 3 starting spots before qualifying 18th on Saturday. Will Power will start 1 row in front in 16th. Can either make up enough ground to get inside of the top 10 in Sunday’s 70 Lap race?
The 2 race winners a year ago each came from Row 8 including 4 of the 5 street course races seeing the race winner come from outside of the top 10 in 2021. So, it’s entirely possible.
The last time Power started 16th here? He won in 2014. Power started 20th in Race 2 last year and came all the way up to finish 6th.
He also started 19th in Barber but charged all the way up to finish 4th back in April. He’s had a top 4 finish in all but 1 race this season at that.
We’re 6 races into the 2022 season with 7 different pole winners, 5 different race winners and 4 different point leaders. Does that parity continue on Sunday?
We’ve had 5 different winners in the last 5 Belle Isle races run and 8 in the last 10. Will someone new reach victory lane this weekend?