Santino Ferrucci

Note: The panel will take a look back at the first half of the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in this four-part, special Midseason Inside Line from June 25-28.

Today’s question: What was the biggest surprise so far this season?

Curt Cavin: I’m still shocked that Team Penske was dealt a pair of disqualifications from the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and the fallout from the Push to Pass fiasco is the defining moment from the first half of the season. Honestly, I can’t remember a similar storyline ever having this kind of impact on a championship pursuit. Remember, the second half of this season was set up for a Team Penske charge to the title given its oval-track success over recent seasons – Josef Newgarden has won nine of the past 12 oval events since 2022 – but Will Power now looks like Roger Penske’s best hope for the Astor Challenge Cup.

Eric Smith: Team Penske and the Push to Pass scandal is clearly the biggest storyline, but to go with a caveat – my biggest surprise is how well the AJ Foyt Racing and Team Penske alliance is working. Sting Ray Robb led 23 laps in the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and has shown glimpses of improvement during his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. The spotlight also is on teammate Santino Ferrucci, who is 12th in points after eight races. By comparison, he was 16th at this time last year. AJ Foyt Racing had six top-10 finishes in its last 51 races entering the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Ferrucci has six top-10 finishes in eight starts this season. On the flip side, the alliance is also working in Team Penske’s favor. Team Penske wanted an inside look at what made AJ Foyt Racing improve between the 2022 Indianapolis 500 and 2023, where Ferrucci led 11 laps in a third-place finish and the driver Robb replaced, Benjamin Pedersen, was named “500” Rookie of the Year after placing 21st. A year after Penske cars qualified 12th, 14th and 17th, respectively, Team Penske swept the front row this year for the first time since 1988. On Race Day, Penske drivers led 92 of 200 laps in the “500” a year after leading just six of 200 laps.

Paul Kelly: Two Midseason Inside Line editions, two agreements with Curt. I didn’t have Team Penske being penalized for Push to Pass violations on my NTT INDYCAR SERIES bingo card during this or any season. It’s as shocking to write today as it was to learn in April. Team Penske recovered immediately from the penalty, winning the next race at Barber Motorsports Park with Scott McLaughlin, sweeping the front row at Indianapolis and seeing Josef Newgarden win the “500” for the second straight year and welcoming Will Power back to Victory Lane at Road America. But the loss of points for all three drivers – especially the St. Petersburg disqualifications of Newgarden and McLaughlin – made the tall task of beating champions Alex Palou and Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi Racing to the Astor Challenge Cup even more daunting. The six remaining oval races will tell the tale, but Penske made it much tougher on itself with these stunning violations.