IndyCar 2016 team preview: Team Penske

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NBC Sports takes a look through the teams competing in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series. Team Penske enjoyed a typically excellent 2015 season, including Roger Penske’s 16th Indianapolis 500 win, but came up just shy of the title. It’s a marquee year for Penske as the team celebrates its 50th anniversary, and looks for more continued success.

Team: Team Penske
Engine/aero kits: Chevrolet
Sponsors: Verizon (No. 2, No. 12), Hitachi/Shell Pennzoil (No. 3), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (No. 22)

2015 STATS

Races: 16
Wins: 3 (Montoya 2, Power 1)
Podiums: 15 (Montoya 5, Castroneves 5, Power 3, Pagenaud 2)
Pole Positions: 13 (Power 6, Castroneves 4, Montoya 2*, Pagenaud 1)
Fastest Laps: 4 (Castroneves 4, Power 2, Montoya 1)
Points: 1886 (Montoya 556, Power 493, Castroneves 453, Pagenaud 384)
Laps Led: 773 (Power 298, Castroneves 198, Montoya 145, Pagenaud 132)
Championship Position: 2nd (Montoya), 3rd (Power), 5th (Castroneves), 11th (Pagenaud)

*Montoya’s 2 poles were when qualifying was rained out and set by entry points

2016 LINEUP (Engineer in parentheses)

2 Juan Pablo Montoya (Brian Campe)
3 Helio Castroneves (Jonathan Diuguid)
12 Will Power (David Faustino)
22 Simon Pagenaud (Ben Bretzman)

2015 TEAM RECAP (Montoya, Power, Castroneves, Pagenaud driver recaps)

Most teams would be happy with the output achieved last year, including the Indianapolis 500 win. Most teams, however, are not Team Penske, and thus operate to the highest level of goals and targeted success. So in that regard even though Juan Pablo Montoya started strong with a well-judged win at St. Petersburg, then denied Will Power at Indy and cost the Australian a shot at a month of May two-race sweep, in truth the team was never as dominant in the second half of the year as it was in the first half.

Qualifying was staggering across the board – 13 poles, four of the best five starting averages, and 26 Firestone Fast Six appearances combined out of 48 possible attempts in the series – but there were no further wins after May, and Montoya’s consistent run lacked a truly otherworldly drive from June on. “JPM” still would have captured the title if not for Scott Dixon’s Sonoma heroics, and his own and Power’s contact during the race. Elsewhere in the team Helio Castroneves enjoyed another solid year, while the big surprise was how Simon Pagenaud’s qualifying pace generally failed to translate to results on Sundays.

2016 OUTLOOK

Unlike a year ago, there are no major changes within the team, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary as a team. Now that Pagenaud and his crew have had a full year and chance to acclimatize and embed themselves within the Penske culture, they should be better positioned for success and their first win. Power, too, should rebound after a rare one-win season with multiple wins.

The story will likely remain the same, where all four should be race winners and at least three of the four could contend for the championship. Highest priority though must be securing the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, a race so near and dear to Roger Penske’s heart, with the championship the second target provided a 500 win is achieved.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”