From Castroneves to Newgarden, chemistry helps power Penske

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) As usual, Helio Castroneves took charge.

Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud came in early for their news conference after a good practice at Road America for the Team Penske drivers. Castroneves, still in his firesuit, picked up the microphone and started moderating the discussion as if he was a veteran announcer.

“You’re such a natural,” Pagenaud said to laughter. “The guy is great.”

Chemistry on and off the track has helped fuel Team Penske’s IndyCar success. All four Penske drivers are sixth or better in the points race, within 63 or less of leader Scott Dixon.

“Between us, yes, we want to kick everybody inside the team,” Castroneves said. “But we want to give the win, we want to give the championship to Roger (Penske). But we know in the end of the day, working together, racing hard … but fair, everybody’s going to be benefit from that.”

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is a headliner on another impressive IndyCar roster for Penske. Pagenaud is the reigning champion. Will Power is a former series champ.

Josef Newgarden is the new guy after joining Penske in the offseason from tiny Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden, who finished fourth in the series last year, is the first American driver on Penske’s open-wheel roster since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2007.

The quartet dominated practice and qualifying at Road America last weekend, with Castroneves taking the pole while his teammates filled out the rest of the front row. A large team allows drivers to share information, giving Penske an advantage over teams with fewer cars.

“We have on-board cameras, have data, have notes from the session. If you wanted to hide something, you just can’t,” Power said.

Added Newgarden: “Really, it’s like impossible. No joke. It’s 100% impossible to hide anything.”

Not that they seem to mind. The addition of Newgarden has appeared to be seamless since he replaced Juan Pablo Montoya. They poked fun at each other all weekend in Wisconsin.

Newgarden, who turns 27 in December, is one of the circuit’s up-and-coming stars. A friendly demeanor meshes well with Castroneves, the jovial veteran of the group in his 20th season.

“First of all, his talent, it definitely (suits) the team,” Castroneves said of Newgarden. “Well, his personality, it helps, too. He’s a guy that fits in.”

Known for his outgoing personality, the 42 year-old Castroneves seemed as energetic as ever at Road America after winning the pole.

“He gets faster as he gets older, like wine, matured,” Power said.

The drivers look like mischievous middle-school boys on a series of lighthearted videos produced by Team Penske. The “Penske Games” include activities like building a Lego race car ; saying the alphabet backward ; and twirling a hula hoop.

“All right, everyone, `Dancing with the Stars,”‘ said Castroneves, the 2007 winner of the reality TV show competition. “We didn’t have this on Dancing with the Stars, but it’s OK.”

Pagenaud looked mystified .

“Well, I’ve never done it,” Pagenaud said.

Newgarden swayed and smiled into the camera.

“It’s all in the hips. That’s what Helio would tell you,” he joked.

They’re much more competitive on the track and for good reason: All are in championship contention.

With Pagenaud using fresh tires, Power blocked his teammate around a turn in lap 15 at Road America. Race officials penalized Power and ordered him to give up one spot on the track.

“We were just caught up in things all day,” said Power, sixth in the points race overall. He finished fifth at Road America.

It was still a good day overall for Penske, with Newgarden finishing second, followed by Castroneves and Pagenaud. It was a reward that comes with the cooperation between the drivers, engineers and mechanics.

But Dixon spoiled the Penske party after the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran won the Wisconsin race. The series resumes July 9 at Iowa.

“It’s kind of disappointing that Team Penske didn’t get the win here today considering how strong all of the cars were. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Castroneves said. “We’ll come back ready to go for Iowa.”


‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”