Penske’s 50th anniversary season presents another shot at IndyCar glory

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The question for Team Penske anytime it heads into a Verizon IndyCar Series season isn’t whether it will win races or contend for a championship.

It’s rather how many races will it win in pursuit of the latest title, and what is now a quest for its 17th Indianapolis 500 victory.

This year is an important one for Penske, which, for all its success, heads into its 50th anniversary celebration but with only two season titles in IndyCar in the last 10 years since 2006.

Odds-wise, there’s a near certainty either Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams or Andretti Autosport will walk away with this year’s title. They’ll have 12 of the 21 full-time entries between them – four cars apiece – to combine for 57 percent of the field.

And they’ve won every IndyCar title between them since 2003, and all but three Indianapolis 500s since 2000 (KVSH Racing in 2013, Bryan Herta Autosport in 2011, Rahal Letterman Racing in 2004).

Of those respective quartets, Penske boasts on paper what is the strongest foursome, with Juan Pablo Montoya headlining having won both two Indianapolis 500s and a series title, Will Power with the 2014 title but no ‘500s, Helio Castroneves with his three ‘500 triumphs yet still without that elusive title, and Simon Pagenaud as the rising fourth act with several wins but none that are yet career-defining.

Success in the past means nothing for 2016, though.

As “The Captain,” Roger Penske – one of the few people in racing you ensure to call Mr. on first reference – said during a January phone interview with NBC Sports once he and Montoya received their Baby Borg Warner trophies, the next races are always the most important.

“We’ll start from the first race just like every other year,” Penske told NBC Sports.

“There’s always a lot of other noise to make it bigger and better. We can’t let our press clippings get in the way.”

Still, Penske feels Montoya – who came up just shy of the 2016 crown after a challenging Sonoma finale despite leading the points the first 15 races – will be even better this season in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

“It was absolutely the right move,” Penske said of signing him once his NASCAR career ended after 2013. “He’s aggressive, but he’s a real team player.

“He cares a lot about the people working on that car. He’s fully dedicated, more dedicated than I thought he would be.

“He was also an individual to admit he’d been out six to seven years, and he needed to catch up. His first year was training time, and you saw what he was able to accomplish in 2015, and he’ll be a real force in 2016.”

Montoya, too, admits he needs to improve further in qualifying, despite an undoubted year one to year two growth last year.

“It was better, but I’m not there yet,” Montoya told NBC Sports last December at the Chevrolet Champion’s event outside Detroit. “There were very few times where I said, ‘Oh, I got that.’

“We need to do a better job, but we made a lot of Fast Six (sessions), and last year I only did one and it was like what the heck happened.

“It doesn’t matter (who’s in). If you made it, you’ll have a good starting position. Who cares who’s ahead? Either it drives really good, and you’ve got a shot at the pole, or it doesn’t.”

He’ll look to add a third Indianapolis 500 win to his resume, while Helio Castroneves will take his seventh shot at joining immortality as the fourth four-time winner.

For the driver who’s one of the best of his generation at Indianapolis, it’s weird that Castroneves’ last six finishes at Indy have been ninth, 17th, 10th, sixth, second and seventh.

He’ll return to the “Yelio Submarine” paint scheme with Pennzoil and Shell signage as he did in 2014 and the stars could align him to get him that last tenth he needs. Judging by his own preseason testing pace at Phoenix in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, to rule him out of his usual top-five points position and wins in the other 15 races would be a mistake.

The weird thing for Castroneves was that he went winless last year. The weird thing for Will Power, who reverts back to his standard No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet this year after having the champion’s No. 1 last year, was that he won only once.

Power jokingly replied to a Detroit Free Press question back in September that he’d want to have the title wrapped before the last race. In reality though, neither he nor anyone seems likely to do so this year, especially with double points again on offer at the finale.

A determined Power is a tough force to stop – and rest assured after last year’s up-and-down campaign he’ll look to return to the title-winning form he usually shows on an annual basis.

Pagenaud, the fourth driver in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet, is again the wild card. He needs to win, but his comfort level and chemistry seems better than it did last year. He can’t afford a second successive tough campaign in arguably the best equipment on the grid.

For Mr. Penske, “effort equals results.”

The question is whether the team’s across-the-board unquestioned effort will produce the best results in the still tightly packed field this year.

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws

The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)