Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Team Penske Setting the Pace Early Across All Motorsports

Did You Notice? … Team Penske currently leads the points in every series it races in?

OK, I know it’s early in the season, regardless of what series it is. It’s only March, and auto racing is one of the few sports that largely starts and ends its season within a single year instead of spanning the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

But for one single team to be atop the point standings in every single discipline of motorsport that it competes in is impressive. Because it establishes that, at least in some capacity, Team Penske is an early favorite for a championship, if not several.

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Thinkin’ Out Loud: Who Cares About the Other 34 Races? Only Phoenix Matters

Following the NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday (March 10), Ryan Blaney has taken the points lead. Despite a 30th-place finish in the Daytona 500, Blaney mitigated the standings damage from that race by scoring stage points and a playoff point after winning stage two. He has since followed that up with three straight top fives, enough to claim the lead. He currently holds a 10-point cushion over Kyle Larson.

While the defending Cup champion is off to a hot start, the same cannot be said for his teammates. Austin Cindric currently sits 15th in the standings, and with the exception of a fourth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (in which he also notched the stage two win), he has not finished higher than 22nd in the other three races.

Meanwhile, their other teammate Joey Logano has had, um … well, let’s just say he has had a season from hell four races in. Logano has crashed in three of the four races so far, only boasting a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The two-time Cup champion is an appalling 30th in the point standings, arguably one of his worst starts to a season since joining forces with Penske in 2013.

The NTT IndyCar Series also made its season debut on Sunday at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and it was a dominating performance from start to finish by Josef Newgarden, who also started on pole for good measure. With team owner Roger Penske under fire for his administration’s management (or lack thereof) of IndyCar since buying it and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2019, Newgarden provided a nice distraction for him by being the class of the field throughout the day.

Teammates Scott McLaughlin and Will Power finished third and fourth, respectively — only Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward finishing runner-up stood in the way of a complete sweep of the podium for Team Penske. As St. Pete is the first race of the season, Newgarden automatically sits atop the standings with his win and will do so until April 21. That’s when the series visits the Streets of Long Beach for its second points-paying race of the year — the March 24 race at The Thermal Club is only an exhibition race and doesn’t count for points.

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Much like IndyCar, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has only competed in one race, but it was its Super Bowl in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, which took place way back on Jan. 27-28. And it was Team Penske (known as Porsche Penske Motorsport in the sports car world) who won the overall event in that race too. The No. 7 team of Dane Cameron, Matt Campbell, Felipe Nasr and Newgarden went home with some brand-new Rolex watches and the series points lead to boot.

I can’t help but hold some curiosity to the idea of a driver holding a points lead in two completely different forms of motorsport the way that Newgarden is right now, but that’s a story for another time.

As the next IMSA race won’t take place until the 12 Hours of Sebring this Saturday, March 16, Penske has held the point standings lead for a month and a half. Cameron and Nasr are the team’s full-season drivers of the No. 7, so they will look for the full-season championship, while Newgarden and Campbell are joining for the five endurance events on the schedule in hopes to win the Michelin Endurance Cup at season’s end.

The No. 6’s sister car, driven at Daytona by Kevin Estre, Mathieu Jaminet, Nick Tandy and Laurens Vanthoor, sits fourth in the standings, just barely missing out on a podium in the Rolex 24.

Finally, in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), the season-opening race in Qatar at the Lusail International Circuit took place on Saturday, March 2, and yes, you guessed it, it was yet another Porsche Penske Motorsport win. This time, Estre and Vanthoor emerged victorious, along with their third co-driver Andre Lotterer, giving the No. 6 the points lead from the jump. Its sister car, the No. 5, shared by Campbell, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki, finished third in a hot start to the season for PPM.

So, to sum it up, not only is a Penske driver or team leading the point standings in every motorsport it is competing in, but any teammate to the points leader is no worse than fourth (except in NASCAR, because Cindric and Logano are in a battle to be the worst driver on the team right now).

Now I know there will be at least one person out there who will go researching and ask — what about DS Penske, the team that competes in Formula E? Neither of its drivers are leading the standings. To which I say DS Penske is not a part of the Team Penske fold, as the team is co-owned by Roger’s son Jay. While it does sport the Penske moniker, it has no affiliation with the Team Penske empire.

But for what it’s worth, DS Penske may not be leading the Formula E standings, but Formula 1 veteran Jean-Eric Vergne currently sits third in the standings after three races. His teammate Stoffel Vandoorne runs 11th, but even in Formula E, the Penske name has at least one driver in the top three in the standings.

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Open Wheel Archive: The 2005 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

To address the elephant in the room: It’s only the beginning of the season. Like, the very beginning. The furthest that any of these series are in their season is NASCAR, which only has four races under its belt thus far. However, it’s still a reassuring sign for Team Penske to know that it has a solid lineup of drivers that can win (hell, some already have!) and compete for championships in 2024.

Motorsports, generally, have long seasons. So anything can happen. And I mean, anything. For example, the NASCAR playoffs may mean that Penske doesn’t win a championship even if Blaney, Cindric or Logano have lights-out years — it all means nothing if they can’t make the Championship 4 finale at Phoenix.

Not to mention, for IndyCar, IMSA, and the WEC, only one race apiece has been contested. There is still, literally, the entire season ahead for these three series.

However, it seems the precedent has been set. If you want to win races and contend for a championship in 2024, there’s a solid chance you’re going to have to go through Team Penske to do so.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …

  • Inspection following the Cup Series race at Phoenix took over two hours to complete. The week prior at Las Vegas had a similar time frame. But both times, inspection had no issues. What gives? Does NASCAR have a more elaborate technical system this season, or were there issues in inspection that just barely met specifications and had to be rechecked? NASCAR ought to at least give clarity on the long inspection times, wouldn’t you agree?
  • Just before Justin Allgaier’s heartbreaking crash from the lead with just five laps to go in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix, it was noted by some that Allgaier had taken a very odd line the corner prior. He put his whole car below the line, something that’s seen often in turns 1 and 2 at Phoenix, but not 3 and 4. One has to wonder if that had something to do with the tire going down that ultimately cost him the race — and a racecar.
  • RFK Racing has dropped its appeal of NASCAR’s safety violation penalty from Las Vegas. Chris Buescher lost a wheel and slammed into the turn 1 wall, resulting in a two-week vacation for some of his crew members.
  • The Craftsman Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway this Saturday, March 16 will have a full field of entrants for the first time since its season-opening race at Daytona — and great timing too, as it’s the series’ first spring race at Bristol on concrete.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Kevin in SoCal

MLB is the other sport that starts and ends its season in the same calendar year. Auto racing is not the only one. :)

Echo

I have noticed that HMS has 2 drivers in the Cup playoffs, while Penske has none.

Jeremy

I think I see the Headline of a new article: “Have the Wheels Fallen Off? After Winning the Championship Penske Has No Drivers Securely In the Cup Playoffs – Is it Time to be Concerned?”

Echo

Good one

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