Before the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season began, there was much talk about the possible Penske Domination. Coming off of a Championship season, Team Penske appeared ready to claim another one, after adding Frenchman Simon Pagenaud to the already impressive trio of Will Power, Juan Montoya, and Helio Castroneves. They probably couldn’t, wouldn’t be stopped.
Early in the season, that looked to be the case. Montoya won the season-opening race at St Petersburg, then they swept at Indy, with Power winning the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and Montoya of course getting his second Indianapolis 500 win. Penske won three of the first six races. Things were clicking. Since then though? Crickets.
We are gearing up for Round 15 of the 16-race schedule, and Penske still only has those three wins. What has happened over the past couple of months?
Things have been brutal, especially for Montoya and Power. In the last eight races, neither Montoya or Power has finished on the podium. In fact, the team as a whole has struggled over these last eight races. The four drivers have combined for 0 wins, five podiums, and six DNF’s.
By the time the next race rolls around (Pocono), it will have been 92 days since Team Penske has won a race. If they fail to win one of these last two races, that drought is going to be brutal by the time the 2016 season gets underway. The good news is that all four drivers finished in the top ten at Pocono last year, as Montoya and Castroneves finished first and second.
Breaking down each driver’s season to date, there are some interesting numbers.
While Montoya is still hanging on to the championship points lead that he’s held all season, his last two finishes of 24th at Iowa and 11th at Mid-Ohio are forgettable. In the four races prior to Mid-Ohio, Montoya has led a grand total of just five laps.
He has four podium finishes this season, but they all came in the first six races of the year. With no podiums since his win at Indy, it could be considered just your run-of-the-mill Indy 500 hangover. Despite all of this, Juan still has an average finish of 7.2 this season, second best behind the 7.0 for Graham Rahal.
Montoya will look to finish out the season strong. Last year, he won at Pocono and finished fifth at Sonoma. He’ll likely need something similar to make sure he closes out this season with the championship.
The defending series champion has had a rough season, for his standards. He sits fifth in the standings, 59 points behind Montoya with two races to go. Sonoma also pays double the points. He finished tenth at Pocono and Sonoma last year, so he’ll need to step it up at both places.
Despite his five pole starts this year, the wins just haven’t been there. Just one win this year would be something new for Power, who has won at least three races in each of the past five seasons. He has only led two laps in the last three races combined.
Power has three DNFs in his last seven races, and in his last eight races, he has a 14.3 average finish. His overall average finish this season is tenth, which is just not something we’re used to seeing from him.
Even though he hasn’t won a race yet this season, Helio has still managed a fourth place spot in the standings. He’s been sliding recently though, with just one top-five finish in the last four races. Over the last 16 years, only once (2011) has Castroneves ever finished a season without winning a race.
It’s been feast or famine for Castroneves this year. He has finished in the top-seven an impressive nine times, but other finishes of 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 15th have really hurt him. He finished runner-up at Pocono last year, but was 18th at Sonoma.
It’s not been the season we all thought Simon would have after leaving SPM last year. He’s currently tenth in the standings, and still searching for his first win with the team. He has qualified well (started in the top-six in 11 of the 14 races) but has not finished well. His average start is fifth, while his average finish is 11th.
Simon has led just three laps over the past five races, and the Mid-Ohio race was the first time he has finished inside the top-eight since the first Belle Isle race on May 30. Pagenaud didn’t set the world on fire at Pocono or Sonoma last year, finishing outside of the top-five in both races.