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Team Penske sweeps top 10 in two series; Will Power third at Sonoma

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Sunday was a good day to be named Roger Penske.

Team Penske scored its 500th win as an organization.

They placed five of six IndyCar and Cup drivers in inside the top five – with one other narrowly missing in eighth.

Penske finished the IndyCar season with three drivers in the top six in points. In the Cup series, Brad Keselowski became the first driver to lock into Round 2 of the playoffs.

Yeah, “the Captain” had a command performance.

A little after the start of the Grand Prix of Sonoma, Keselowski won the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to give Penske his 500th organizational win – one week after he won the first ever Brickyard 400 for Penske.

Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney finished fourth and fifth at Las Vegas respectively.

One state over in California, Will Power led the IndyCar contingent by finishing third in the Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“I think if we would have started farther up front, we would have had a chance to win,” Power said after the race. “It was a good year though. Roger got his 500th win today. We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th IndyCar race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn’t get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske.”

Winning the 500 is not only enough to make a season successful, it can make a career for both drivers and owners. Power’s 2018 victory marked the 17th time that Penske won that race.

It didn’t end there, however. Power’s Indy 500 win was part of a sweep Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. He also won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis two weeks early. Power added a third win for Penske in 2018 at Gateway.

Power entered Sonoma with a mathematical opportunity to win the championship, but that faded midway through the race and he finished third in the points behind Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.

Right behind Power, Simon Pagenaud finished fourth in the race and sixth in the standings.

“It was a good day: definitely competitive, we definitely unlocked a lot of secrets,” Pagenaud said. “I think we cracked the code this weekend on the car and what I needed so we were much more competitive that we’ve been on the road course and it felt good. It felt fun.”

And while Pagenaud did not add to Penske’s win total in 2018, he came close with runner-up finishes on the oval of Texas in June and the street course in Toronto in July.

“I found my smile back, so that is a good thing,” Pagenaud told NBCSN after the race. “I’m really excited for next year; I’m already thinking for next year. … I think it’s in these kind of situations you learn the most and you come back stronger.”

Josef Newgarden was the only Penske driver who failed to finish in the top five Sunday. He crossed under the checkers eighth and finished fifth in the standings.

If not for one bobble in the pits, Newgarden might have given Penske a perfect sweep of the top five.

“It really all started with the first pit stop,” Newgarden said. “We just had a mistake in trying to get out and I stalled it. It kind of ruined the whole day from that point there on. It was tough to recover after that. I think we had a lot of potential today and we could have contended for the win, but it was too hard to come back.

“It was a great season and a lot of great moments for the whole team and myself.”

In his quest for 500 wins this year, Newgarden gave Penske three. These came at Phoenix and Barber Motorsports Park early in the season and at Elkhart Lake just past the midpoint.

“We’ll double down for next year,” the 2017 champion Newgarden said after the race. “We’ll try to take that number one plate back.”

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Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”