INDIANAPOLIS — 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. He’s 0-for-4 in the GMR Grand Prix too.
Heading into last year’s Month of May, Team Penske was off to a successful start to the 2022 season and everyone was talking about them being the ones 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.
This was going to be their year right? They looked vastly improved during the week of practice and had all three cars in the top 12 of the four-lap average report from Fast Friday including 3rd and 4th respectively.
However, they once again only got one car through to the Fast 12 Shootout and that’s Will Power taking the 12th and final spot. Scott McLaughlin (232.677 mph) starts in the Middle of Row 5 (14th) and Josef Newgarden (232.402 mph) will roll off in the Middle of Row 6 (17th).
McLaren meanwhile, put two of their three cars to the Shootout last year and finished 2-4-11. All three ahead of the top finishing Penske.
On Saturday, McLaren had all four cars in the Shootout while Penske has one. Has McLaren passed Penske in the pecking order among the Chevrolet camp?
“I think there’s no doubt that they’ve done a tremendous job,” Josef Newgarden told me. “They’ve just excelled. We fell short today. There’s no hiding it. We did not do a good enough job. I can’t speak highly enough about Chevrolet. I think they’ve been tremendous this whole season, particularly tremendous today.
“You can see that by evidence of everybody that was up there. We weren’t missing anything from that side. They’ve been a great partner for us.
“We seem to be able to figure out most situations, but for whatever reason this cruel mistress, she’s just tricking us. I don’t understand how so. I think all of us don’t fully understand it.
“You don’t stop working. I think for us, we’ve just got to continue to put in the work and not have an ego about it. We weren’t good enough, let’s figure out why. Indy is not easy. This is not an easy place to just succeed. I don’t care how many Indy 500s you have, what team you are, there are no guarantees when you show up here.
“We don’t have an ego about it. We have to work hard, come back, do a better job.”
Newgarden says that they’ve not left a single stone unturned in the fight back to the top at Indy.
“Look, there’s no place to hide,” he says. “We’re just not fast enough. We really weren’t. It’s unfortunate. I feel terrible for our team because I’m front and center of being able to witness the amount of effort that has gone into this place. It is just not from a shortage of effort.
“We’re obviously just missing something else. I don’t know how we’re missing it. We’ve worked hard, all of us collectively. We’ve tried to have no ego about it. It’s just not enough.
“I think we’re still short. Unfortunately the weird thing was I think we were more in the mix yesterday. I think the wind plays a big factor into that. Maybe we’re missing something in these type of conditions that we saw today.
“Any way you want to slice it, we just weren’t good enough. We’ve got to go back and really assess again. Unfortunately we’ve been doing that every single year here. What’s most important now is we’re going to focus on the race. I do believe with how tight the field is, as Tony talked about, there’s opportunity anywhere. If you qualify for the race, there’s opportunity anywhere to win this event. We have to put our focus to that now and be able to collect ourselves after the 500 and see what we can do better. I have strong confidence we have great race cars and can be in the fight on Sunday.”
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 in the test.
“There’s always room to grow,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been an up-and-down few years, but obviously last year was fantastic in terms of my development, and then this year having a win already before coming to Indy is a nice feeling.
“But as the guys have said, I think as a team, I think we’ve really worked together well between the three drivers, between the engineers, between everybody that’s behind the scenes and put in the hard work to make sure we get speed.
“But also, it’s not just here. It’s all the other tracks, as well. I think we’ve really worked together and the camaraderie in the team has been great.
“From a personal perspective, there’s always times where I can find a bit more of myself, and I’ll continue chipping away at that. New stuff will pop up every year, doesn’t matter if it’s third, fourth or the tenth year.
“I feel like I’m in a good place right now, feel comfortable in the car, feel comfortable here at this place, and hopefully that bodes well for the rest of the month.”
They come to the Indy 500 reeling off of a disappointing GMR Grand Prix which saw them qualify 12th, 13th and 16th and have just one car even finish in the top 10. That comes after winning 2 of the previous 3 races and having 2 of the 3 podium finishers in the race prior at Barber.