Never Stop Driving #101: Penske, Again

James Gilbert/Getty Images

Last year, in my recap of the Indy 500, I talked about how much I loved seeing 86-year-old Roger Penske jump for joy when his team’s driver, Josef Newgarden, took the checkered flag. This year was much the same, with Penske celebrating as Newgarden again triumphed in a nail-biter of a race. Only the man known as “The Captain” is now 87. Talk about thriving in one’s golden years!

Truth is, everyone who saw the race felt excited, because it featured what every spectator wants to see: dramatic passes. Today’s IndyCars are so heavily regulated that there is little speed difference between them. The cars run in tight packs, and the drivers use the draft of the car ahead to slingshot past each other. That means lots of passing. So when Newgarden was leading in the second to last lap, I figured he was just a sitting duck because the second-place driver could swing by just before the checkered flag. And, indeed, Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward passed Newgarden during last lap. Only he did so right at the beginning, which seemed too early to me. O’Ward’s the pro, however—not me—and down the long straight leading to the final two turns, his move seemed to be the right one. He pulled to the inside of the track leading into turn three and thus blocked Newgarden’s most obvious path back into the lead.

At this point, I should note that there is a wall that lines the track and that both Newgarden and O’Ward were traveling at some 220 mph. I also need to mention that the outside of a turn is treacherously slipperier than the preferred inside line, because rubber thrown off tires over the course of the race accumulates into little rubber balls called “marbles.” Imagine driving over a bunch of mini ball bearings. That’s why you rarely see drivers pass on the right. Except Newgarden did just that, pulling off an incredibly courageous—and dangerous—pass on the outside of turn three. Announcer Leigh Diffey exclaimed, “This is mind blowing!”

After the finish, O’Ward was in tears—surely mourning his loss but also, I imagine, feeling totally gutted by how it happened. He never thought Newgarden would attempt that kamikaze move and succeed. None of us did. The Indy 500 certainly delivered drama and heroics this year. Watch that final pass here.

It was a face-saving win for a Penske team mired in a cheating scandal. On April 24, IndyCar announced that Penske drivers had illegally used a push-to-pass system (a brief burst of increased power) during the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida, which Newgarden had won. The infraction was considered so severe that IndyCar took the unusual step of disqualifying Newgarden and retroactively declaring the second-place driver, O’Ward, the rightful winner. In response, Penske conducted an internal review, admitted fault, and on May 7 suspended four senior team members for two races, including the Indy 500. One of those suspended was Team President Tim Cindric. They won Indy anyway.

Meanwhile, over in Monaco, Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc won a Formula 1 race that was expected to be a boring affair… and absolutely was, with the top 10 drivers finishing in the same order they started. Today’s wide F1 cars and the narrow Monaco streets leave almost no opportunity for passing. When a rare chance to make a move opens, drivers then take huge risks with often catastrophic results. That happened twice in the opening laps. Haas driver Kevin Magnussen saw a tiny lane alongside Sergio Perez, went for the pass, and caused a collision instead. Perez’s Red Bull was destroyed. Alpine driver Esteban Ocon enraged his team when he tried an optimistic move on his teammate Pierre Gasly, taking them both out of the race. The total damage cost several million dollars.

Still, can you really blame those drivers for trying? They’re athletes, born with a hunger to go for it and an unshakable confidence that they’ll succeed. That’s what got them to the pinnacle of motorsports. Sometimes it works, like it did for Newgarden. Sometimes it doesn’t.  

Fun aside: The Autopian ran a Monaco piece with this headline: The Most Exciting Part Of The Monaco Grand Prix Might Be This Out-Of-Control Boat Hitting A Yacht On ‘Billionaire’s Row’

This weekend, IndyCar heads to the streets of Detroit, which is, umm, not Monaco. Hagerty will be there, of course, covering all the action. Be sure to follow us on social if you don’t already. And if last weekend’s racing smorgasbord has you filled-up with motorsports for the moment, don’t worry, we’ve been busy off the track, as well. Below you’ll find a short list of the latest from Hagerty Media. I hope you’ll give these pieces a look and also consider supporting us by joining the Hagerty Drivers Club.

Have a great weekend!


P.S.: Your feedback is very welcome. Comment below!

Please share this newsletter with your car-obsessed friends and encourage them to sign up for the free weekly email. The easy-to-complete form is here. And if you’d like to support the efforts of Hagerty Media, please consider joining the Hagerty Drivers Club.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: No Perfect Formula Showcases Cadillac’s Return to International Sports Car Racing


    O’Ward is as “courageous and dangerous” as anyone out there. It would not have surprised me one iota to have seen him do exactly the same thing that Newgarden did. There are some exciting “young guns” on track in IndyCar racing right now, and we’re seeing some of the best competition ever. This year’s Indy 500 was terrific and I’m looking forward to a great rest-of-the-season.

    F1 Monaco is now just a money grab. It is locked in by tradition, and as noted, the cars had outgrown the course many years ago. I have heard it referred to as “The world’s most expensive parade”

    I know I’m in the minority but here goes…I don’t find Indy that interesting or exciting. After one lap the single file slip streaming begins. By the last 3 laps, any of the first 5 cars can win based on the timing of their slip stream position. The cars look like amusement park rides and are outdated and devoid of creative engineering…it’s flat out throttle driving and essentially all have the same limitations…almost appearing to have traction control! Inexperienced drivers abound which is demonstrated by the single car spins. Having attended over 35 Indy 500s (quit going 5 years ago), I long for the days of exciting chassis and engine options, non-vanilla drivers and especially the large entry list that Indy once generated.
    Yes, Monaco is tough to watch but the precision driving and multiple story lines on technology, innovation and creativity are interesting to motorsports fans who appreciate these things. No doubt, the cars have grown too big to make Monaco much more than a parade, but at least the cars are interesting.

    Hans has stated my exact feelings about Indy racing for the past many years except I actually like the idea of racing cars that are outdated in terms of technology. Technology and overly strict regulations have resulted in about as boring a race as NASCAR turned into. The Indianapolis 500 is no longer about the race but about the “interesting” happenings among the (often drunk) spectators. I get a lot more entertainment from the local stock car races. xxx

    Sorry the Monaco F1 Grand Prix was boring for you, Larry. It certainly wasn’t boring for me. It had me on the edge of my seat for the entire uninterrupted showing of Sky Sports coverage on ESPN. Absolute precision driving, as former F1 driver Martin Brundle said, your concentration wavers for a split second and you’re in the wall. The ultimate in racing technology. The strategy: who will pit, who will not, can the tires last? Despite the fact that two bonehead moves on the first lap removed a major strategic element, it was pretty much a nail-biter from start to finish. If you don’t want to watch F1, that’s fine. But maybe it would be preferable to either develop an appreciation for what you’re watching and quit trying to tell people how boring something is. I’ll close with one other point: H. L. Mencken once wrote “A letter to the editor is a sure sign of insanity.” Or something like that.

    Thanks Stan. Oh I love F1 and watch every race. I still find some events more fun to watch than others.

    While the Grand Prix of Monaco is steeped in tradition and is surely one of the most technical routes to run, I think I agree that maybe the technology and speed of the cars has outgrown the circuit. My term wouldn’t be “boring”, but – and I really hate to say this, as I’m a traditionalist – maybe it’s time to move on from the street course and concentrate on real race courses. Las Vegas last year certainly did nothing to convince me that even courses set up in modern cities are any better.
    Of course, as an IndyCar fan, I realize if I take the above stance, I’m eliminating a good portion of their venues as well (I’ve loved the Long Beach race forever!) – but in the end, race tracks are for racing and city streets are for commuting…

    I guess I’m lucky. I enjoy F-1 and Indy. Both have their pros and cons. The problem with both is that high dollar racing costs…high dollars. So the teams, manufacturers and sanctioning bodies are always trying to find the right combination that will meet every ones needs. If you look at IMSA, which I also enjoy, and GTD for instance you’ll find very different cars. However they are constantly giving to one taking away from another etc. ‘ Is so and so sandbagging?’ – ‘ Was it right to add that much weight to…? ” To keep a wide variety of cars they need to do this unfortunately. They need to attract a variety that are willing and have the finances, to invest in the sport. As spectators we may not care for it but lacking that cooperation there’d be fewer and fewer series to watch. So it goes.

    Indy winner Parnelli Jones has died. He was 90 years old. Race fans everywhere should tip their hats to this guy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *