INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden leaves the Indy 500 open test in a familiar spot. He’s on top of the overall speed chart. He’s done so the last two years prior as well. However, that didn’t end up meaning all that much. He’s qualified 21st and 14th respectively and finished 12th and 13th in those races.
On Thursday, he was once again quickest overall (227.686 mph). What makes this year different than the last two?
He hopes everything. He feels the momentum. He won Texas last year but didn’t win equate to a win either at Indy. He did so again earlier this month.
“Great day. Really great day,” Newgarden quipped. “I wish it was like race day today. But you don’t get to choose those. You got to show up on that day and be really good. I told the team, If this was race day, don’t touch it. It was very good.
“Sometimes have you that around here. Sometimes you show up and sometimes the cars is just great. Sometimes you got to work on it. Today was one of those really good days. We got through a list as well, we learned a lot, which is always positive.
“Sometimes you can go in circles around here, sometimes you’re inefficient. Today as a team I felt like we were very efficient with time, split it up, divided and conquered. Really happy for Team Penske today and feeling good next month for the Shell car.”
Newgarden feels their offseason work has finally paid off. So does teammate Will Power.
Power is a 68-time pole winner in INDYCAR. That set the new record. However, he’s not yet won a pole here. With starting position meaning so much to this race again, that’s partly the reason Penske has slumped in this race lately.
At one point, Power made the Fast 9 in 11 straight years here, including four front row starting spots (2010, 2014, 2015, 2018), but none of those resulted in a pole. He’s finished 14th or worse in 4 of the last 6 Indy 500 starts.
“Man we we’ve done everything we can to get qualifying speed there’s not at the end of the day, you’re at the mercy of the speed of the car simply,” Power told me. “Then you’ve just got to put downforce to match.
“Honestly, it has you have to have the car. You have to have that that you have to have cars capable of doing it then it’s up to you to how much you want to trim. But unless you have that you just simply so you know, just at the mercy of what you want what car it is. Because very finicky here, you can just have a fast car and it can be the best of the team. They’re all built the same. One just slightly faster. So I would be waiting to have that car for many years. I’ve had it been close then. Yeah. Been on the front row. But yeah, yeah, it’d be nice.
“Like to get for flat out lap so team has worked I’d say last three years extremely hard on that. So we’re hoping to get all cars and the top 12 this year and closer to the front, but obviously it matters in the race because I got the top 12 and went all the way back to last with a loose car so I think I think we’re all pretty keen for a good run this month.”
Roger Penske bought the Speedway in late 2019 and turned the ultimate flex up to a whole new level. See, his parking space is located just outside of the media center in the shadows of the pagoda. Everyone else’s space is known through initials. Mark Miles’ is MM. Doug Boles’ is DB. Penske’s? It’s 18. Not RP. The 18 stands for Indy 500 victories.
At the time, he had won two straight Indy 500’s. A third seemed likely in the very near future. But, as we sit here today, he’s 0-for-3 and surprisingly hasn’t even been close.
Heading into last year’s Month of May, Team Penske was off to an undefeated start to the 2022 season and the team everyone was talking about them to win last 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 were once again, nowhere to really be found in Indy.
That included another winless Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
They failed to lead a single lap a year ago here and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).
Penske qualified 13-22-25-28 in 2020, finished 5-11-14-22. They’d lead a grand total of 16 laps that day. A year later, they’d qualify 17-21-26-32 and finish 3-12-20-30 with just 3 laps led all day.
Newgarden has won everything but this race. The 26-race winner in INDYCAR competition is 0-for-11 in this race with just five total Top-10 finishes in it. 3 of those 5 top 10 results were in the top 5 however, but Newgarden has yet to drink the milk here.
Power is one that has won the race (2018).
Scott McLaughlin is the relative newbie. He’s only 0-for-2 here but is eyeing his first top 10 on the 2.5-mile oval. He was 10th on Thursday.