Team Penske

This might be Josef Newgarden’s month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The sixth-year Team Penske driver and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion won his first Ruoff Mortgage Pit Stop Challenge on Friday, and he hopes to add his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge to his resume Sunday.

Newgarden and the crew of the No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet led by chief mechanic Travis Law beat NTT P1 Award winner Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) in the finals of the annual 12-team Miller Lite Carb Day competition in front of a boisterous gathering in Tower Terrace.

Newgarden’s crew was effectively perfect in its three passes. Its slowest was 11.569 seconds; its quickest 10.948 seconds, the latter the only sub-11-second run of the event.

The winners ousted Dixon’s team, 2-0, in the best-of-three final round, the first finals sweep since the format was adopted in 2017. They beat the crews of Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing), Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP) and Dixon in succession.

The victory extended Team Penske’s Pit Stop Challenge record to 18 victories, the same number the team has earned in the “500” – also a record. Fifty years ago, Roger Penske’s organization won its first “500” with Mark Donohue driving.

Law led Helio Castroneves’ crew to victory in the event in 2015 and 2016. The No. 2 crew earned $50,000 in awards today from a prize pool of $100,000.

The Pit Stop Challenge was held for the first time in 1977. Dixon’s crew has won three times.

Newgarden said the crowd’s energy in support of the event reminded him of old times at IMS.

“The energy is great to feel again,” he said. “Not only the whole month leading up to it but Carb Day … I can’t even wait until Race Day. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like, and it will feel so good.”

Malukas, Herta Experience Turn 1 Accidents

The crews of Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian) and rookie David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD) have work to do in preparation for Sunday’s race due to Turn 1 accidents in the Carb Day practice.

The session was limited to 90 minutes due to late-morning rain. Herta had the more damaging of the two accidents, the back of the car snapping and hitting the wall and the incident ending with Herta upside down. He was not injured and later withdrew from the Pit Stop Challenge.

“I feel a bit of sadness for that race car,” Herta told NBC. “We were loose the whole session. I went too fast for the corner and air got underneath it. I’m all fine. It does look like a pretty big shunt.”

Herta credited the aeroscreen for helping to keep him safe.

Malukas was attempting an inside pass on Santino Ferrucci (No. 23 Palermo’s Screamin Sicilian DRR Chevrolet of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) when they made wheel-to-wheel contact, flattening Malukas’ right rear tire. Ferrucci was penalized for avoidable contact. The penalty was a 20-minute stop and hold during the practice.

Malukas said he had a small bruise on his left foot, but he otherwise escaped injury.

“That was a very big hit, one of the biggest I’ve felt,” he said. “For some reason, (Ferrucci) turned down. My tire went flat; you can’t do much with a flat tire at those speeds.”

Malukas said he made a similar move on Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) two laps earlier without incident. Ferrucci accepted responsibility.

“I’m glad he’s OK, first of all,” he said. “Big hit. He was coming, I heard from the spotters. It was a late blast; it was past the turn-in point for me. I checked up; I thought I timed it well.

“Clearly (I) didn’t. It’s my mistake. It is what it is.”

Coincidentally, Ferrucci drove for Dale Coyne’s car for two years and was in the No. 18 entry in 2020. Also, former INDYCAR SERIES driver and Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Pancho Carter is Malukas’ spotter; Carter’s son, Dane, is Ferrucci’s. Both Carters work from Turn 1.

McLaren Investing in INDYCAR Team

McLaren Racing will have a larger footprint in Central Indiana with the construction later this year of a new facility for Arrow McLaren SP, which is expanding to three full-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams in 2023. The facility will be located north of IMS, in Whitestown.

The new building will more than double the size of the current facility, with more 97,000 square feet and a “significant number” of high-quality jobs.

Sustainability will be a core focus for the design and construction, with ecological features. Opening is expected in 2023. McLaren’s facility in Woking, England, is a showpiece for Formula One.

Pato O’Ward, who was confirmed Friday to a contract that will keep him with the organization through the 2025 season, saw many benefits to the facility.

“I get my own parking place,” he said, laughing. “It will be a mini-McLaren (headquarters), perfect and beautiful. I’m really proud to be part of this organization.”

Rahal Hopes 33 Is Winning Number

Bobby Rahal was 33 years old when he won the 1986 “500.” His son, Graham, is … 33 years old.

The numerology is not lost on the driver of the No. 15 United Rentals Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

“My dad and I have had a lot of strange similarities in our careers,” said Rahal, who starts his 15th race from the outside of Row 7. “It’s been very weird.

“I have to look at the superstitious nature (of this) and go.”

Rahal felt his first “500” victory should have come last year, when he and his team had worked the fuel strategy perfectly to put him in the lead by Lap 79, and he was leading when he pitted on Lap 119. But that’s when the rear wheel came off, and he crashed in Turn 2.

“I knew, I knew we were in a great spot,” said Rahal, who said the pain of that loss figures to last for years to come. “It’s bad, and I try constantly not to think about it, but ask me in 10 years when (my career) is over. … If I never get an Indy 500 win, that 2021 race is going to sting for a long, long time.

“The only worse day of my life was the day after the Michigan loss.”

Rahal is a lifelong and diehard fan of Ohio State football.

Three Inducted into IMS Hall Of Fame

Danny Sullivan, the driver who executed one of the signature moments in “500” history when he spun and won the 1985 race, was one of three inductees into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame during a downtown ceremony Thursday night.

Sullivan won the INDYCAR SERIES championship in 1988, the season Team Penske swept the front row with pole winner Rick Mears and Al Unser.

Also inducted were 13-time “500” starter Wally Dallenbach, who later served as chief steward of the series, and legendary broadcaster Paul Page. Dallenbach twice qualified on the front row at IMS and finished in the top five three consecutive years (1976-78).

Page called the induction “the greatest award of my life.”

Odds And Ends

  • Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) ran the most laps in the practice session, with 68. Newgarden turned 62, with four others 61.
  • Judy Dominick, Chevrolet’s publicist who has represented many racers, including Tony Stewart, and T.E. McHale, who represented Honda in recent years, received the Robin Miller Award for unheralded, excitement and tireless contributions to the sport. Miller and McHale passed since last year’s “500.”
  • Kevin Diamond, who represented numerous race teams participating in the “500,” was honored with the Russo-Marvel Founders Award for longtime dedication to auto racing.
  • Amy Walsh-Stock, who works with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and first-time “500” starter Jimmie Johnson, and Steve Shunck, who represents BorgWarner, were co-winners of the annual Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. Johnson was on hand to support Walsh-Stock.