MADISON, Illinois – If ever a team and a manufacturer needed a bounce-back race after a disappointing few weeks at the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, it was Team Penske and Chevrolet.
Team Penske and Chevy generally leave Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a celebration in Victory Lane following another Indy 500 win. Team Penske’s cars have won the famed race a record 18 times.
Josef Newgarden’s fifth-place finish was the only Penske driver in the top 10 this year at Indy. The other three Team Penske drivers in the “500” included Helio Castroneves, 11th; Will Power, 14th and Simon Pagenaud, 22nd.
That is why the Team Chevrolet sweep of the top four positions in Race 2 of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway was so important. Two of the top three drivers – winner Newgarden and third-place Will Power – race for Team Penske. Other Chevy drivers in the top four included second place Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP and fourth place Rinus VeeKay, a rookie for Ed Carpenter Racing.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Scott Dixon was the highest-finishing Honda driver, fifth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
Saturday’s first race at WWT Raceway was also a tough one for Team Penske, but Sunday’s effort was much more reflective of the team’s glorious history of accomplishment.
“We had a tough Saturday, kind of like Iowa on the wrong side of the caution on the first day, but this was a race where all the details had to be right for the guy that won it,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric, who calls race strategy for Newgarden. “It was executing on the last pit stop, knowing we had to put less fuel in.”
That strategy helped Newgarden win the race after starting second. Takuma Sato, last week’s Indy 500 winner for the second time in his career, started on the pole and led 66 laps. Newgarden was next with 48 laps led, including the final 43.
He beat O’Ward out of the pits and then raced him off the warmup lane on the final pit stop. That was enough to decide the race.
“It was the clean air and how much fuel you put in,” Cindric said. “We chose to stay out on the second stint and stay out longer, so we had to put less fuel in on the last stop.
“When I knew the other guys were coming in, I wanted to come in with them because I felt like we had a chance to beat them out rather than figure out how to beat them on the racetrack.”
The Chevy teams watched a Honda celebration at Indianapolis, but instead of sulking, they got back to work the next weekend.
“When I look at Indy, Chevy gave us the tools to win the race and the tools to do the job,” Cindric said. “The Chevy teams, including us, didn’t reach our potential. We started too far back. We had good race cars.
“We needed the Indy 600 to make it work.”
This was a victory for Newgarden that was badly needed to help keep him within striking distance of Dixon. The win cut Dixon’s lead in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings to 96 points.
“You never give up, but obviously Scott has a huge lead,” Cindric said. “It’s going to be hard to catch those guys, but we won’t give up.”
Newgarden is one of only two drivers in the series with multiple wins in 2020. The other is Dixon, who has won four of the first nine races. Newgarden has two victories.
Power is searching for his first win of the season but was in front Sunday for 40 laps before finishing third.
“It's very good for Chevy to have the top four finishers,” Power said. “It was unfortunate at Indy. We all had troubles in qualifying. Obviously, the boost level probably took us by surprise a bit.
“I feel like it's very equal on every other track. We’ve certainly had a lot of potential this year and very strange year. But I feel very fortunate that I get to drive the Verizon car, and we get to do this and can actually have some fans here. It’s a fantastic job.
“Obviously, we’d love to win, but it wasn’t today.”
Newgarden believes Chevrolet had the power to win last Sunday at Indianapolis and showed speed at key points in the race.
“We were really in the Indy 500 with a shot to win at the end,” Newgarden said. “Most people probably don't know, but we actually passed Sato in Turn 3 out of the last pit stop out of the pits. We were sort of there. We just faded, and we weren't in the conversation anymore.
“I mention that because I think Chevrolet was there. They had a presence. They definitely gave us a good opportunity to compete at the ‘500.’ I just didn't work out this year. We left there not having what we wanted, certainly not with the 1 car. As a whole camp with Chevrolet, we didn't get what we wanted.
“This weekend, we had everything we needed: good power, reliability, fuel mileage we needed. Nothing to complain about this weekend. It was great to see them finally get a win. A 1-2-3 is even better.
“I’m proud to be Chevy-backed. All my wins have been Chevrolet-backed. I always have faith they're going to bring me what I need.”