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Team Report Card: Team Penske

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If anyone thought 2017 would see a regression for Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series, those concerns were put to rest early and often in the 17-race slate.

Aside from a lack of pace in qualifying and race trim at the 101st Indianapolis 500, an event nearly won by Helio Castroneves, the Captain’s quartet was often the rabbit with eventual series champion Josef Newgarden leading the onslaught.

While most experts were expecting a learning curve for the Tennessee-native in his freshman season for the North Carolina-based operation, the No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet pilot wasted no time moving toward the top of the points table. He started with a trip to the winner’s circle at Barber Motorsports Park, and ended with a four-race surge late in the year, where he returned with three further triumphs and a runner-up placement in the remaining round. 

This year, however, was not just a one-man wrecking crew for Roger Penske. Will Power continued to be a force, ironically showing more potential on ovals than on the road and street circuits he has routinely dominated in past seasons. Three victory laps shows the Australian will be a factor again for the Astor Cup in 2018.

Simon Pagenaud also was a championship challenger for most of the 2017 campaign, collecting two P1 results and finishing just 13 points adrift of Newgarden in the final table. The Frenchman was a regular upfront and should be stronger in a smaller, three-car operation in 2018.

And despite shifting his focus to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the new year, Helio Castroneves proved this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he is still a threat to become a four-time Indy 500 champion. Although the Brazilian squandered multiple good grid positions in 2017, his fight with Takuma Sato at the Brickyard with a slower machine to second at the checkered flag should keep him among the favorites next May.

As one would expect, a few A+ grades are in store as POPULAR OPEN WHEEL breaks down the season that was for Team Penske.

Josef Newgarden (2017 IndyCar champion): Year one greatly exceeded expectations as the driver of the No. 2 Chevy quickly asserted himself as a critical contributor to a squad already loaded with top-class talent.

The Alabama win almost got drowned out by two iffy efforts at IMS in May, and a did not finish at Texas. However, the attention-grabbing American would bounce back to place either first or second in six of the final eight rounds to secure the Astor Cup.

While the No. 1 plate brings with it an increased level of pressure and expectations, the veteran should back-up his storybook 2017 campaign with another solid showing in the new year ahead.

GRADE: A+

Simon Pagenaud (Second on 2017 points table): The Frenchman only finished outside the top-ten twice this past year; however, those outings were enough to deny his title defense.

Very hard though, to find any red flags looking ahead to 2018 and like with Newgarden and Power, his time at the front of the IndyCar Series field should continue into the new campaign.

GRADE: A+

Helio Castroneves (Fourth on 2017 points table): Another solid season for the former Dancing With the Stars champion, but 2017 also could be looked upon as a year of missed opportunities. Castroneves was the strongest qualifier on the Captain’s squad last season; however, several of those chances to climb the fence after the checkered flag were squandered, minus his one victory at Iowa.

Whether or not that was a factor in his removal from full-time service in 2018, the Brazilian will take advantage of his opportunity next May at Indianapolis. Despite being outpaced in practice and qualifying, the veteran was on the verge of joining the four-time winners club before finally succumbing to the stronger ride piloted by Takuma Sato.

Even with only two races to strut his stuff next season, he will be a favorite when he is present on the track.

GRADE: A-

Will Power (Fifth on 2017 points table): Three wins typically would be in range for a championship trophy claim; unfortunately, it is not when coupled with too many poor outings. While several of the low results were not the Aussie’s fault, it created too big of a mountain to climb in keeping up with his three teammates last season.

If Power can limit the bad placements to the two or three suffered by Newgarden and Pagenaud in 2017, the driving talent of the road racing ace should take over from there in 2018.

GRADE: A-

TEAM OUTLOOK: Even with only three full-time title candidates on offer, the domination of Team Penske could become even stronger in 2018, as a smaller squad means increased support to the remaining entities.

If the bad finishes are spread equally by the Captain’s trio, it could allow Power to trump his intrasquad rivals as no other driver in the IndyCar Series can match his pace on road courses. Add to that the Australian continues to become a bigger threat on the high-speed ovals, and he is a potential winner in any event on the calendar.

Assuming Chevrolet can bridge the horsepower gap it faces against Honda at the Brickyard, Penske will not be limited in time trial mode in 2018 and should be a more significant foe against teams like Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing, with Helio Castroneves looking for history on Memorial Day weekend.

GRADE: A+

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

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