Roger Penske has 15 Indianapolis 500 wins as an owner, more than anyone in the race’s 100-year history. This year, it appears that No. 16 is going to be tougher than ever.
Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves have combined for seven of those wins. The other winning drivers for Roger Penske in this race are some of the most talented to ever get behind the wheel. Guys like Sam Hornish Jr, Gil de Ferran, Al Unser Jr, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan and Bobby Unser have all tasted the milk at Indianapolis while driving for Roger.Team Penske has won five of the last 10 Indianapolis 500 races.
This year, Will Power has dominated on the street and road courses, winning the pole for all four races prior to coming to Indy. He has two wins, and a runner up finish in those four races. He was fast in every practice session this month, and was perceived to be a favorite coming into Pole Day. He did make the Fast Nine, but will start the race in fifth position, the middle of row two.
Ryan Briscoe has been equally as fast, and was my early prediction to win this year’s race. Going into the morning practice session on Pole Day, he looked like he would be a lock for the front row. Unfortunately Briscoe lost control of his IZOD machine in turn two.
Briscoe backed it into the wall hard, and had to go to his backup car. Even though they took him away on a stretcher, he was cleared to drive just a couple of hours later, and got in the backup car, despite being badly bruised in the accident. Ryan qualified his backup car in 27th position on Sunday.
The third Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, was looking forward to Indianapolis to provide a bounce-back race to his season. He has struggled in the first four races this season, being involved in accidents in every race, including taking out his teammate Will Power at Long Beach.
While he felt good coming to the familiar speedway, his chances of winning a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 took a hit when he didn’t have the speed we thought he would on Pole Day. Many people, including myself, were expecting him to be up in the front row, but he didn’t even make the Fast Nine. Helio will be starting the race in 16th position.
While this weekend wasn’t another Penske domination, having two of the three cars starting worse than 15th is not something we can just brush to the side. The weekend has been overshadowed by the mess that is Andretti Autosport, the brilliance of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, the fuel miscues of Chip Ganassi, and the horrible luck of Dragon Racing.
While I wouldn’t hit the panic button yet on Team Penske, they should probably focus more on finding the speed that Helio needs to make his way to the front. Briscoe’s primary car was one of the fastest all month, so going to a backup car really hurt his chances. Will Power will be fine starting in fifth, but we don’t really know why Helio qualified so poorly.
It would be foolish to count out any of these drivers before the race starts, but they have been outperformed by many teams this past weekend. Normally the favorites for the race are either Penske or Ganassi cars, but this year you have to add in the teams of Sam Schmidt, Newman Haas, and also drivers Dan Wheldon and Ed Carpenter.
Make no mistake though, both Ganassi cars will be up front during the race, and Scott Dixon is going to be very difficult to beat.