INDIANAPOLIS — One team is imploding with teammate vs. teammate drama. Another one is thriving with all 3 teammates getting along. The one that’s not playing together nicely, they have just 1 driver in the top 10 in points as we just passed the midway mark of the year. The one that is, well they have 3 drivers in the top 7 in the NTT INDYCAR Series points standings and have taken the checkered flag first in 6 of the 9 races run thus far in 2022.
It’s the exact reason as to why Hendrick Motorsports has taken a large turnaround on their camp in NASCAR. They had a record setting year last season off of a “one for all” mantra. They look out for each other and it’s paid off.
Penske is taking the same approach in INDYCAR. Look, they had their fair share of teammate drama in NASCAR last year between Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski following the Daytona 500 but also worked past it. On the INDYCAR side of things, the three Penske drivers are getting along as good as ever and it’s paying off in on track success as a direct result.
Camaraderie, we’ll it’s a real thing in racing. While you really are judged first by how you stack up against your teammate, then the amount of trophies you can accumulate, the teams that thrive each season are the ones that have the teammates that have fun with each other.
You see it everywhere. A good sports team is only as good as the group in the locker room. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t gel, you’ll struggle.
Same in business. You can have talented workers but if there’s dysfunction, it’s never works.
Mid-Ohio was just the latest example to all of this. The Andretti drivers were feuding. It hit its boiling point with 20 to go when Romain Grosjean and Alexander Rossi had a spat in the keyhole.
“What the hell is wrong with him?” a pissed off Grosjean said on the radio then. He pleaded for Andretti to sit Rossi down after the race to discuss with him why Rossi was a fault.
So a few laps later, you can imagine how irate Grosjean was to hear he was being given team order to help Rossi’s finish as Rossi was still on the lead lap and Grosjean not.
“What do you want me to do? Just block everyone behind and not go ahead?” Grosjean asked his pit stand at the time.
When told that’s exactly what they’re asking, Grosjean declined to do so.
“Because Rossi put me in the wall, so I am not going to protect him,” Grosjean replied to them.
Grosjean then got into Colton Herta while Rossi got into Devlin DeFrancesco. They all were mad. It did lead to a closed door meeting in the trailer after the race.
You’d think a closed door brief and likely one way discussion would get the attention of everyone in the room. It must have fallen on deaf ears though which is why I feel like this is far from over.
“He’s an absolute idiot,” Grosjean told myself and a small group of reporters waiting outside the hauler on Sunday. “I don’t know why he does that. He’s on black tires, I’m on reds. I’m on the outside and I carry more speed through the corner. He did it once on the restart. OK, maybe he slipped on cold tires. Do it again the next lap. Then, he did it on purpose. My hand is hurting. We lost the bloody race.”
Chemistry is way wrong. It honestly should have never reached this point though if it was right.
We’ve heard about this for a while now about dysfunction in this grouping, but nothing was ever addressed. So much so, it created this mess that we witnessed in rural Ohio.
Championship teams handle these things before they go awry. You’ll have problems that come up over the course of a season. No one is perfect. What separates championship teams from non?
How you respond to adversity.
Andretti seems to be focused on F1 and took his eye off the ball here. Popular and successful drivers were replaced with new drivers and the ones left in the room, weren’t happy. Instead of addressing these matters directly, it spiraled out of control.
Take this and compare it to what Penske drivers did that weekend. Josef Newgarden single handily helped Scott McLaughlin win the Honda Indy 200. It was advise by his teammate to help them get back in the right direction.
“Just yesterday before qualifying Josef (Newgarden) was really the one that said, hey, you should maybe go back to your old setup because you looked stronger on that and whatever, and we actually ended up doing that, and that’s what happened,” McLaughlin said. “We qualified really well, and it worked out good. We’ve got a really good relationship between the three of us. We want to beat each other more than anything, but it’s solid, it’s a partnership that I think is going to push Team Penske more and more forward in the future, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
He’s not wrong. He’s won twice and sits 7th in points. Newgarden has won 3 times and is 3rd. Power has one win but is 20 points out in 2nd.
Penske took 2 of the 3 podium spots in Mid-Ohio.
Granted, all teammates still want to beat each other. It elevates them. However, there’s a right way and wrong way to do it.
Penske is a classic example on the right way.
“I’m very competitive. I hate losing to my teammates,” McLaughlin said. “I hate making mistakes. But that makes me competitive. That makes me work hard and make myself better. I think if I lose any competitiveness or aggression to myself, I’m not going to be as good as I want to be. I’ve got two teammates that are pushing me to no end, and if I do the right job on the day, I can certainly beat them like we’ve seen.
” I’m privileged to be able to compete against Will and Josef as teammates and see their data and it allows me to develop better. They’re absolutely at the top of their game. They’ve been at the top of their game for a long time, and I’m able to rebound off them.”
Newgarden and Power are more than happy to help him and vice versa.
“Yeah, he’s just a fast driver,” Power said of McLaughlin. “He’s doing all the work he needs to do. No surprise to me that he’s winning this year and running up front. Obviously it’s only his second year in this series, but he’s gained a lot of experience at a very high level. He dominated down in Australia, and that isn’t an easy series, either.
“I think what was good for him was he had the maturity of a professional driver. He didn’t have to learn like a rookie and make all these silly mistakes and a lot of trial and error. But doing a great job, great job. I mean, to come from sedans to open wheels and be competitive is impressive.”
With the new feud between McLaren and Ganassi that involves 4th place in the standings Alex Palou, this could further shape a battle of all three Penske drivers fighting for the championship among one another. Could that make things awkward in a sense that how do you share info with a driver that you’re battling to win a championship against? But is it also an advantage to know what said driver is doing too?
What’s the balance?
“It is a very tough balance,” Power told me on Wednesday. “To me, the most awkward thing about motorsport is that you have a teammate, and you’re absolutely compared off your teammates, you have the same equipment. Very tough balance.
“But Penske, I don’t think Penske would ever allow it to get to the point where we’re having big issues with each other on track. We understand that. We understand that it’s about the team and not about the drivers. You never put yourself first.
“You work hard, you work together off the track. Obviously we’re kind of separate teams on the track. I have to say with both Scott and Josef, it’s been very good as far as the information that we share. Like, they are both super quick. It has helped me a lot. That’s to me an advantage.”
It’s just a night and day difference between these two camps right now, inside the paddock and outside of it.