Latest INDYCAR championship is ‘Sweet 16’ for Roger Penske

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MONTEREY, California – At 82, Roger Penske is as successful as ever.

In 2019, he extended his Indianapolis 500 record to 18 victories when Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndy 500 on May 26. He has also placed all three of his Team Penske NASCAR Cup drivers into the Playoffs and his Acura Team Penske IMSA operation is among the best in the business. His Australian Super V8 squad led by record-setting driver Scott McLaughlin.

Sunday, at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden gave Penske a record-extending 16thIndyCar “National Championship.” It was Newgarden’s second as a driver and Team Penske’s third NTT IndyCar Series title in the last four years.

“When you think about as long as we’ve been in this sport and continue to have a team of people who can execute as they have, not just this year but the past several years, the continuity of our team and the people makes the difference,” Penske said afterwards. “Josef is a great champion. You can see it in his eyes. You could see it the first time he won with us, and with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, who just had an outstanding season, when you think about three wins and certainly the Indy 500 is the crown jewel that all of us want to have every year.”

With a “Sweet 16” in IndyCar Series championships, along with Penske’s other tremendous accomplishments this season, could this be his best season ever?

“I think we’ve got 35 or 36 wins so far this season and a bunch of poles across the different series,” Penske said. “We’re in all of them. We got to execute at Road Atlanta with the Acura team in IMSA, and McLaughlin has just had a super season when you think about winning 17 races, probably more than anyone has ever won for us in one season. I think Mark Donohue had the record before.

“When you get into the Cup side, what do we got, eight to go here, and we’ve got three great drivers, and it’s going to come down to the last four and maybe the last corner and what have you. But the good news is we’re still in it, and our goal obviously is try to win all four.

“We understand it’s a formidable challenge with the people that we’re racing.”

In addition to Newgarden getting his second IndyCar Series championship and his second in the past three years, Pagenaud took second place in the standings away from Alexander Rossi in the final race of the season.

That gives Team Penske a 1-2 finish in the standings and more importantly, redemption for Pagenaud after he was winless in 2018.

“I think when he won the race in the rain (at Indianapolis in the Grand Prix), had the pole (for the Indy 500), you could see he was a different guy running in the Indianapolis 500,” Penske said. “To see him execute and then go to Toronto on one of the toughest courses that we have, we race on, and to see him win there, he really made a statement to us as a team and certainly for himself, not only here in the U.S. but around the world.

“I look at Scott Dixon as the guy we’ve got to beat every weekend in and out, and racing him wheel to wheel, Simon really proved his mettle.

“Obviously he’ll be part of our team next year.”

Penske represents excellence in all of his endeavors, whether it’s on the race track or in the boardroom as one of the leading business and industrial leaders in the United States.

He looks for the same competitive qualities in his drivers and has three of the best including 2014 IndyCar champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power, 2016 IndyCar Series champion and this year’s Indy 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud and two-time champion Newgarden.

“I think Josef is a pro,” Penske said. “He led throughout this whole season, came off right away with victories. I know he was on edge a little bit, but I know he’s glad it’s over.

“I think there’s so much emotion inside for someone like that because you’ve got to be perfect today, and I think the fact that he was able to execute the way he did, it was just a time to let it all out. His family was there, his mom, his grandmother, she came all the way from Denmark to see this race, so it was pretty special for her.”

It was an emotional experience for the young driver from Hendersonville, Tennessee. He broke down in tears after he clinched the championship.

Meantime, Penske’s stomach was churning for most of the race over the strategy that it took for Newgarden to clinch the championship. The team chose to play it safe rather than put the driver at risk.

Essentially, Newgarden tucked behind Alexander Rossi, who entered the race as his closest competitor, and stayed there. With a 41-point lead, as long as Rossi didn’t win the race and force Newgarden to finish fourth or higher, it would be enough to win the title.

“My stomach churns all the time, so I’m used to it,” Penske quipped.

The competition may never be better, and Team Penske is still on top. And in a season that had outstanding storylines, another championship for the most successful team in IndyCar history exemplifies excellence.

“I think the races are the right length, and we have a really key TV partner with NBC obviously showing us today on national television,” Penske said. “It was a real superstar event for us, and obviously for the whole series and the IndyCar family and industry around the world that really looks at us every day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter @BruceMartin_500

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.