Even though it had five drivers – just under one-seventh of the 33 cars in the field – Team Penske had a bittersweet overall showing in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Celebrating its 51st season in motorsports, Team Penske was searching to extend its record 16 wins in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, but came up real short — as well as not so short.
The good aspect was Helio Castroneves finishing a close second to race winner Takuma Sato. Castroneves came so close to winning a fourth time at Indianapolis, which would have tied one of the most elite records in motorsports history shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
Instead, Castroneves finished second for the third time in his career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s tough to accept,” Castroneves said. “I did my best. I really pushed it. The guys did a phenomenal job. We drove our heart, no question.
“The good news, sounds like we’re leading the points (he leads teammate Simon Pagenaud — who is also tied with 500 winner Takuma Sato and 500 polesitter Scott Dixon — by a 245 to 234 point margin. Hey, there is always a positive note. I think that it is very positive.
“Yes, finishing second again sucks. So close to get the fourth. I really am trying. I will not give up this dream. I know it’s going to happen.”
Castroneves almost ran head-on into disaster on Lap 53, when Jay Howard and Scott Dixon crashed. Somehow, Castroneves was able to sail under Dixon, whose car went airborne after contact with Howard’s car, and continued on.
“What can I say? My race was pretty adventurous,” Castroneves said with a smile. “We have a lot of things. We started from the back. I knew I had a good balance. Then we went to the front about lap 50, then were in the top 10.
“Unfortunately with the accident with Dixon and (Howard), we broke a winglet and broke the front wing because it went off the track. I don’t know how to be honest. It was a good save, I have to say that. This place brings the best out of me. It was pretty good.”
Sato passed Castroneves for the lead heading into Lap 196. Castroneves rallied to pull even with Sato with three laps to go, but couldn’t complete the pass.
“I tried everything I could with three laps to go, two laps to go,” Castroneves said. “I went outside. Unfortunately my tires were overshot a little bit. I would have ended up in the wall. I thought it was good timing because I would try to make a move again. Man, he just took off and that’s it. That was my last chance.
“Really disappointed for the fans, for obviously my team. They gave me a great car. I did everything I could, trust me, everything I could. Unfortunately, second place is the best for us today.”
Castroneves said he’ll once again go for No. 4 in 2018: “Sorry, next year, then.”
Also having a good day was former 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished sixth in a one-off Verizon IndyCar Series start.
“Our Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy was good,” Montoya said. “We had a problem there in the beginning when we ran out of gas in Turn 3. We should have had another half-gallon in the car. It put is in a tough position because we lost a lot of positions there. From there to come back to where we finished was great. We ran 12th or 13th most of the day and then the car was really good at the end of the race. The balance just wasn’t there. Then I told the guys on the last stop, let’s take swing and we did and the car came to life. I would have liked to have had some more laps at the end.”
Defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud finished 14th.
“It wasn’t the finish we wanted today for the Menards Chevrolet team,” Pageaud said. “But for the big picture it was a decent day. We’re still in that top group in points as we head to Detroit. That’s a place that suits us pretty well. The (Indianapolis) 500 remains a goal and we’ll take another shot at it next year.”
Then came the bittersweet aspect. Two drivers that many felt would win Sunday – Will Power and the latest addition to Team Penske, Josef Newgarden – were involved in the same wreck late in the race that ended their days.
Newgarden finished 20th, while Power finished 23rd, both collected in a late race wreck.
“It was an OK day,” Newgarden said. “We just got caught up in that wreck there at the end. That hurt us. When we were up front we were good. We seemed to keep racing ourselves toward the front of the field. Then we would just get dropped back by a couple of issues. If we would have been up front the whole time, I think we could have finished in the top five. We performed really well today, things just didn’t go out way.”
Added Power, “I’m not sure what happened out there. All I know that I was sliding backward. It was an up and down day for the Verizon Chevy. We were able to stick our nose in there a few times and we were stuck back in the back other times. Then, we got caught up in that deal at the end that ended our day. We’ll move on to Detroit. The thing about this race is that we get to turn the page pretty quickly.”