Will Power will be honored Saturday at the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship he secured for Team Penske last weekend. A host of team members will stand with him.
Yes, Roger Penske’s organization is often featured in this sport’s postseason events, but it’s not routine for all. Take Ron Ruzewski, for example. He joined Team Penske in 2005, serving as Helio Castroneves’ lead engineer for 12 years. Together, they won a lot of races, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in 2009, but they never hoisted the Astor Challenge Cup despite several close calls.
“I was always a bridesmaid,” said Ruzewski, who is shown above talking with Power.
Prior to the 2019 season, Ruzewski was promoted to managing director of Roger Penske’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES program, responsible for nearly every detail of each car the team fields. He shared in the glory of Josef Newgarden’s second series championship that year, but it wasn’t the same as the experience he had this year.
Ruzewski was Power’s strategist, a role once held by Penske. Every race-weekend decision involving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet this season could be traced back to the Purdue University graduate from western New York. Imagine how he felt, a 53-year-old father of two whose racing career began in 1990 working as a data acquisition engineer for Scott Goodyear’s car at Shierson Racing, becoming a series champion for the first time.
“In immediate control of the destiny (of the car) instead of being one step removed, yeah, this is my first one,” he said, smiling. “Feels really good.”
Ruzewski isn’t alone experiencing that first-time feeling. He said at least half the men and women who worked on Power’s car this season are hands-on champions for the first time. Among them: Trey Williams (inside front tire changer), Adam Jarus (outside rear tire changer) and Eric Crabtree (fueler), and there are many others who support from the safer side of the wall.
Yes, championships are won by Team Penske with some regularity, but there are never guarantees in this competitive sport.
“That’s why I got everyone together after the race Sunday before we all went our separate ways,” Ruzewski said. “I congratulated everyone and said how proud I am to work with them. I made a point to say for those who have been here, like John Haslett who has been here for 40 years and (winning) is old hat, congrats. But to all the newbies, I said you’re in the spoils of what this (sport) is all about. You’ve gotten to taste it, and hopefully it makes you hungry for more.
“It will take a while for them to realize there’s a lot of people up and down pit road that never get this opportunity, and some of them have been doing it for a long, long time. You really hope that it sinks in, and they get that it’s a big deal.”
Dave Faustino understands the magnitude of it. His foray into motorsports began with a Formula SAE program while a student at Rutgers University. His first taste of professional racing came in Formula Mazda, then Atlantics. In 2005, he joined Conquest Racing’s Champ Car team before moving to Team Australia, owned by Derrick Walker, for 2007. Walker assigned him to Power’s car.
Power and Faustino have worked every season but one since then – that was in 2009 when Power was first a stand-in for Castroneves and then a part-time Team Penske driver. Which means, when Power broke Mario Andretti’s pole record last weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Faustino deserved his share of the spotlight.
Faustino has been the lead engineer for 65 of Power’s 68 poles in the series. The exceptions: 2006 at Surfers Paradise and the two poles in 2009 (Long Beach and Edmonton).
“I’m sure there’s no stat book for race engineers,” Faustino said, laughing. “Will probably would have done that with any (engineer) because his talent is so high and he knows what he’s doing, so I won’t say the (record) is because of me. But it’s nice to have been part of it.”
Team Penske stayed overnight in California following Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, and Faustino noticed how fresh the celebration felt. After all, it was the team’s first series championship in three years, and the adjustments made to the organization’s sports car program, particularly among the engineers, had shuffled staff members more than usual.
In short, this was a new bunch, certainly different than when Power and Faustino celebrated their first title in 2014.
“Looking at the reactions, it made me feel like I did when I joined this organization,” Faustino said. “You never really know if you’re going to get a chance to work with a good driver or have a chance at a championship, no matter how good you are. The opportunities don’t often come.
“I definitely reflected on that, and I certainly took notice of the way (others) reacted to it. I hope this will be something they carry with them, that they feel ‘I’m a champion; we’re a championship team’, because that means something.”
Ruzewski said Team Penske performed like a championship organization in 2022. Not only did its three drivers finish in the top four of the standings – Newgarden was second, Scott McLaughlin fourth – their crews also finished in the top four in pit stop efficiency.
“It blows me away that we were able to do that,” Ruzewski said of the two accomplishments. “It also proves to me that we’re doing something right in all aspects – training our people, preparing our cars, the drivers we have, the tools they’ve been given, the pit stops the crews executed. It’s nice to know that what you’re doing works.”