Roger Penske says Simon Pagenaud ‘absolutely’ back with team next year

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INDIANAPOLIS – Speculating on Simon Pagenaud’s future has been an enticing parlor game in the NTT IndyCar series this season, but an Indianapolis 500 win finally might have quashed the conjecture.

Sunday’s victory was the record 18th in the Indy 500 for team owner Roger Penske, who tends to keep around drivers who deliver a checkered flag at the Brickyard.

So did it ensure that Pagenaud would return to Team Penske next season?

“What do you think?” Penske said with a broad smile. “Absolutely!”

FULL INDIANAPOLIS 500 COVERAGE: All of NBCSports.com’s 2019 stories over two weeks in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Pagenaud cemented his dominant May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by leading a race-high 116 of 200 laps and outdueling runner-up Alexander Rossi in a thrilling finish.

It came on the heels of the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet driver capturing the pole position at the Brickyard last weekend and making a furious charge through the rain to beat Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Grand Prix on IMS’ road course two weeks ago.

Pagenaud has been coy about his contract beyond 2019. When asked after his win Sunday by NBC Sports’ Marty Snider about if the questions about his job security had motivated him, he said, “It didn’t. I’m just focused on the job, man. When you a car like this, a team like this, you just work your way.”

After a winless 2018, Pagenaud has two consecutive victories and the series points lead. Penske was asked whether the 2016 series champion’s ride had been jeopardy without raising his performance this season.

“I don’t think that I said anything to the media about Simon,” Penske said. “He’s on our team. He’s one of our drivers. You’ve seen that. That was scuttlebutt. I think that’s a good word for it.

“But what he did this month, certainly he achieved records in his own personal life and certainly what he had expected to, and the run today, it’s a history book run for me when we think about some of the races — an opportunity to be in the winner’s circle, so he did a great job.”

Chief strategist Kyle Moyer said Pagenaud’s May was reflective of the expectation for any driver at Team Penske, which has 18 Indy 500 wins, including two in a row and three of the past five.

“Team Penske has always been winners, that’s why I came here, that’s why Simon is here, so you’re expected to win,” Moyer said. “So when you’re not, you’ve got to figure out a way to do it. Simon has done that. I think in this month he’s actually forced it on you to show you that he can win. Like I told you a month ago, I said, if he wins one, there’s no reason he can’t win five in a row, because he’s that type of driver once he gets the confidence built.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”