Hinchcliffe snaps Team Penske pole dominance in 2016

(Photo courtesy IndyCar)

James Hinchcliffe not only won the pole for next Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, he also single-handedly snapped Team Penske’s stranglehold on qualifying No. 1 in races this season.

Team Penske drivers had captured the pole in each of the first five races of 2016. Will Power took the season-opening pole at St. Petersburg although didn’t start there because he missed the race, then Helio Castroneves started from the pole at both Phoenix and Long Beach, and Simon Pagenaud led the field to green at both Birmingham and last week’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

If you extrapolate that a bit larger and include those drivers that qualified No. 1 in 2015, the last two races of the season saw Penske drivers start on the pole at Pocono (Castroneves) and Sonoma (Power) — meaning Hinchcliffe actually stopped a seven-race Team Penske streak.

Team Penske also earned the pole in the first five races of last year and captured 13 poles overall in the 16-race season. That means coming into Sunday, Penske drivers had earned 18 of the last 21 poles starting with the 2015 season opener at St. Petersburg.

So, Hinchcliffe’s feat is all the more special, as the last non-Penske driver to earn a pole was defending series champ Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio last August 2. Fittingly, Dixon also snapped the Penske pole streak at Indy last year.

But when it came to capturing the pole in Team Penske’s 50th anniversary year, none of its drivers could find the magic formula.

So when the Indy 500 takes the green flag next Sunday, Team Penske’s lineup looks like this – and here’s what each driver had to say:

* Power will start sixth (outside of Row 2).

I just couldn’t get the Verizon Chevy up to speed,” Pagenaud said. “We were wide open all of the way around.  The conditions were a little harder, so we added some downforce and, unfortunately, it just wasn’t fast enough. Despite that, I’m still proud of the Verizon Chevy team and very happy with the run and getting into the Fast Nine. It was fun to be there and, now, we’re looking forward to the race.”

* Simon Pagenaud, who has won the last three races this season, will start eighth (middle of Row 3).

“The conditions changed drastically today from yesterday,” Pagenaud said. “We had cold weather, was gusty. Now it is hot and greasy on the race track.  It is really hard for the engineers to find the perfect combination of aero versus drag.  I think the Menards Chevy is good. We tried to get the best out of it. Sometimes it doesn’t go perfectly your way. I would rather it went my way on race day.”

* Castroneves will start his quest for a record-tying fourth Indy 500 win from ninth position (outside of Row 3).

“We tried everything we could,” Castroneves said. “In the morning we tried a little downforce that was too much and the track was really hot. Now in the end, maybe I wish I could have done what I did before. In the end now we have to think about the race. Obviously, you want to be No. 1 all the time that is the spirit of competitiveness, but now we have to think about the race.”

* Defending 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya will start from 17th position (middle of Row 6). Montoya had one of the strangest tales of qualifying in several years when a trash bag got caught in the grill of his Chevrolet.

“Whoever is spotting in Turn 3 is probably not paying attention,” he said. “The bag was there. I saw it on the grass and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s odd.’ And when I came to Turn 3, it was in the middle of the groove. I had nowhere to go. I just hit it and lost all of the front air from under the car. It just went straight. I got on the brakes, trying not to hit the wall. Luckily, we got another run, but they didn’t let us check the car. I think the wing or something bent with the force of the bag.”

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

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

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.”