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

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.