Penske power: Star lineup unites to fight for IndyCar title

(Left to right) Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power look to push each other as they chase the 2015 IndyCar Series championship.

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -€“ Putting together an "All-Star" collection of talent doesn’t always deliver championship results in professional sports. Egos often interfere with team play and results often don’t reach the lofty expectations.

When team owner Roger Penske added Simon Pagenaud to his collection of drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series during the offseason that was one more star driver to go along with three of the best in the last decade or so of the sport: Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya won the 1999 CART championship and the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and Will Power, who is IndyCar’s most dynamic driver and the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion.

Pagenaud’s biggest victory was last year’s Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. But with four career IndyCar wins for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports it’s obvious Pagenaud is a star of the future. And that is why team owner Roger Penske and team president Tim Cindric expanded their prized operation to four cars for the first time in team history.

The "Pagenaud Effect" may have been a big reason why Team Penske will start Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the first four positions after sweeping the top four in Saturday’s Firestone "Fast Six" qualifications. Power won the pole with a track record 1:00.6931 (106.767 miles per hour) around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course.

Right behind him, though, was Pagenaud at 1:00.7252 (106.710 mph). Castroneves was third at 1:00.8356 (106.517 mph) and Montoya rounded out the four-driver Team Penske sweep at 1:00.8532 (106.486 mph).

In the final "Fast Six" session, Pagenaud pushed Power and Power pushed Pagenaud and the result was just what Penske and Cindric wanted -€“ all four drivers at the top.

And that could be just a sign of things to come not only in Sunday’s season-opening race but also for the entire Verizon IndyCar Series season.

"Hopefully, we can execute and do our jobs," Cindric said. "Everybody else has the same opportunity to hire the same guys when they come across. Fortunately, we’ve been able to put the right guys together, I hope. Any time you can do something Roger hasn’t achieved it’s something new and a special day.

"But Sunday is the day that counts."

Team Penske also has the resources, the manpower and the budget to sign four of the best drivers in the sport and give each one an outstanding chance at victory and turn them into champions.

"You hope so but you have to have an owner that has the passion enough to do it," Cindric said. "Fortunately, we can hire guys on talent and be fortunate enough to have talented guys at the wheel."

David Faustino is Power’s race engineer and works closely with the engineers for all of Team Penske’s drivers. He took pride in Power winning the pole at St. Pete for the fifth time in his career -€“ 37th IndyCar pole for Power.

"It shows all the hard work we have put in and Chevy has put in has paid off," Faustino said. "We’ve always been strong at St. Pete. I’m not taking this an indication that we are OK in races to come but it is a great start.

"The intensity level within our team has never been this high. When you are second to your teammate it feels like you are at the bottom of the chart. They are fighting for everything they can get and pushing each other really hard."

It is important for Team Penske to channel that intensity so it doesn’t become something that tears it apart. It’s like splitting the atom – done properly and it will produce enormous power but it can also be highly volatile.

"Our team does a really good job of making it a team environment," Faustino said. "It’s tough but it’s as best as can be at our team. It’s using all those drivers info in the right way to make yourself better. If you can do that you will be on top any way."

That is the goal for Team Penske -€“ for all four drivers to challenge for the top. That way, the team wins but somebody has to finish second, third and fourth.

Is Saturday’s outcome a sign of things to come for the entire season in the Verizon IndyCar Series?

"We’ll find that out of race day," Cindric said. "It will be a good test. It’s a good problem to have. You wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s our jobs to do that. There will be days when it’s not going to be good but when you get to the next one hopefully it will be different."


Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Verizon IndyCar Series Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. Eastern Time.