Team Penske qualifies for season finale like it did for season opener: 1-2-3-4


In one of the most unique twists of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Team Penske is ending things the way it started out: 1-2-3-4.

That’s the same way Team Penske qualified for the season opener at St. Petersburg. Will Power took the pole (although missed the race with concussion-like symptoms), Simon Pagenaud was second, followed by Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And now, as we prepare for Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Team Penske has again qualified and will start the race in 1-2-3-4 order.

This time, it’ll be Pagenaud on the pole, followed by Castroneves, Montoya and Power.

“What a great job by Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3-4,” Castroneves said Saturday. “It just shows how well we are working together.”

Added Montoya, “It’s nice to see Penske sweep the front two rows. I know we did it in St. Pete but didn’t start that way after Will couldn’t race. It’s neat to be a part of.”

While the big story of the day will end with the determination of whether Pagenaud or Power wins the championship, its start is rather unique in IndyCar annals.

But at the same time, however, Team Penske’s qualifying achievement isn’t a complete surprise. In this season’s 16 races, when it comes to Fast 6 showings, Pagenaud leads with nine, followed by Power with eight, Castroneves with seven and Montoya with four.

More so, as a team, the Penske boys have earned 28 of 60 total Fast 6 appearances this season. In addition to the 1-2-3-4 qualifying efforts at St. Petersburg and Sonoma, they also were part of the half-dozen fast pack in one other race.

Castroneves said he was “pretty confident” that he had won the pole, but Pagenaud’s late-session final run not only displaced Castroneves, it also earned Pagenaud another point for earning the pole.

Pagenaud now comes into Sunday’s race with a 44-point margin over Power for the championship, as opposed to the 43-point edge it had been coming into this weekend. With double points at stake, every extra point counts.

“What a dream season, seven poles, I mean it’s unbelievable,” Pagenaud said. “Obviously, I’m super excited. I knew we could do it, but this has not been my favorite track in the past (this is his first career pole at Sonoma). It doesn’t seem to be the case anywhere anymore.

“… That is what I call the animal instincts and you don’t think, you just go. This is the best moment when you can drive this way.”

Added Castroneves, “Man, that was so close! We’ve been fast all weekend and we showed it again today in qualifying. We felt good with our approach and the car was really consistent. I made just a little mistake and that probably cost us in the end because Simon was so fast, especially on red tires. Congratulations to Simon – that is good for him in the championship.”

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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”