Team Penske pulls Indy vanishing act
The name Penske has long been synonymous with the Indianapolis 500.
But in Sunday’s 100th-anniversary running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Team Penske went from synonymous to anonymous.
Not that it was difficult to lose track of Roger Penske’s cars by the time it was over. After all, most eyes were focused on rookie JR Hildebrand, the race leader who crashed on Turn 4 of the 200th and final lap, then on Dan Wheldon, who sneaked past Hildebrand to take the checkered flag and his second Indy 500.
So where was Team Penske? Let’s scroll down the stat sheet. More. More. Keep going. Oh, there’s Will Power, who started in the middle of the second row. Power lost his left rear tire coming out of the pits on Lap 23, and never really recovered. He finished 14th.
Scroll a little more to find three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who had a boatload of problems and finished 17th. And if you have the patience you can scan way down to 27th place, where you’ll discover that Ryan Briscoe got tangled up with Townsend Bell and crashed out on Lap 157.
So how bad was it, really?
“I was surprised about that, actually,” third-place finisher Graham Rahal said. “I’m not going to lie to you there. I raced with Briscoe a couple times, passed Helio a couple times, passed Will. They didn’t have it. You could see Briscoe just did not feel comfortable all day. Yeah, I’m pretty surprised that they weren’t faster.”
Wheldon was more to the point.
“I don’t think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race.”
To their credit, the Penske drivers were matter-of-fact about their performances.
“At the first pit stop, the wheel came loose and knocked the lead screw off, so I had no brakes,” Power said. “So we did a stint like that, came in and had to fix that, got a lap down and that was it for the day. We just had to try and fight our way back.”
Castroneves had a battle on his hands all afternoon. What went wrong? More like what didn’t go wrong.
“We had a very big vibration at the beginning,” Castroneves said, “And we had to do an unscheduled pit stop. And then we had a flat tire. We were able to try and get back on the lead (lap), and then we had that flat tire. So it was just one of those things.” Or two, or even three, if you count when Helio had to slip down onto the pit access road to avoid contact on a restart on Lap 155.
Another one of “those things” happened to Briscoe in Turn 4.
“I saw Townsend (Bell) brush the wall in Turn 4," Briscoe said. "Everyone was going down the inside. I was just following through on the insider into Turn 1. I just think he didn’t know I was there and he just came down and pinched me. As soon as we made contact, the wheels interlocked, and that was it.”
That was it. Rahal summed “it” up this way:
“’Cause it’s Indy, flat out. I mean, that’s what I put it off to. This place, when you think you got it figured out, it bites you. I mean, it’s Indy.”
"Tough day," was what team owner Roger Penske told the Indianapolis Star.
Penske team president Tim Cindric added a little more, telling the Star, "It's one thing not to win. It's another to not be in position to challenge at the end."
Steve Miller is the managing editor of FOXSports.com.