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Roger Penske on ‘redemptive’ Indianapolis 500 win: ‘Now, let’s go for three in a row’

INDIANAPOLIS – Roger Penske said that his record-extending 20th Indianapolis 500 win brought a sense of redemption to his team.

Team Penske overcame adversity with Josef Newgarden’s dramatic last-lap victory in Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500.

It raced from under the dark cloud that hovered over the team since the April 22 announcement of the disqualifications to Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner Newgarden and third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin from violating IndyCar’s push-to-pass regulations on March 10.

Newgarden dramatically won his second-straight Indy 500 when he made the race-winning pass over Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren in Turn 3 of the final lap.

Newgarden became the first driver since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002 to win back-to-back Indy 500s.

“Well, look, it was a great redemption, I would have to say, but we understood there was nothing malicious in the intent when we had this software issue, push-to-pass, people call it,” Penske told NBCSports.com in an exclusive interview Wednesday

“But look, our goal now is going for three in a row.”

No driver has ever won the Indianapolis 500 three years in a row. The closest to accomplishing that was Castroneves, who finished second to 2003 Indy 500 winner and teammate Gil de Ferran by just 0.2290-of-a-second.

Don’t bet against Newgarden and Team Penske from creating history in 2025. The 87-year-old Penske sets goals on the race track, and in the business world, and most often achieves what he intends.

IndyCar: Indianapolis 500 Winner
IndyCar: Indianapolis 500 Winner

This year’s victory was magical for many reasons.

The start of the Indy 500 was delayed four hours by rain and when the track was dried and the pre-race ceremonies completed, the largest crowd since the 2016 Indianapolis 500 were in their seats to see a thrilling race from start to finish.

“Well, it was a team effort,” Penske said. “I think we started the month with speed. All the days prior to qualification, then to see the three cars on the front row was amazing.

“Josef’s crew won the pit-stop contest by two seconds over McLaren and beat Ganassi, which are two of the toughest guys in the garage area. Then to see the race with Scott McLaughlin leading 66 laps, and Josef 25 or 26, was a standout performance.

“And then to see the smart guys, both Pato O’Ward and Josef, trying to wait to be in the right position for the last lap. And I think that with Josef able to pass Pato and Turn 3 on the outside was a historic moment.

“I don't think we'll see that again.

“The track was fast. I think the cars were well-balanced, everyone's. And certainly, the competition has never been tougher. When you think about 16 leaders, I don't know how many hundreds of passes during the race, but to me it was a success for the fans and that's the most important thing I guess for me and the team at Indy.”

There was a level of intensity on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval that was much higher, much earlier this year. Some of it may have been how late the race started – 4:45 p.m. ET and the knowledge another storm system would move in later that night.

Penske believes there are other reasons why the racing was outstanding.

“Well, I think there's lots of history with these cars and engines within the garage area set-ups, I think we've had good oval racing,” Penske said. “I'd have to hand it to the tire company. Firestone gave us a great tire for this year's race, which didn't produce a lot of the marbles that we normally have. So, I think that second groove opened up, which gave people a better chance to be able to compete and pass on the outside.”

It was a tremendous month for Team Penske. McLaughlin won the pole, Will Power started in the middle of Row 1 and Newgarden qualified for the outside of the front row. It was the second time in Indy 500 history the same team swept the front row.

The previous time was 1988 and it was Team Penske with Rick Mears on the pole, Danny Sullivan in the middle and Al Unser on the outside of Row 1.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Newgarden’s victory, McLaughlin’s pole and Power’s front row qualification effort came on a team that was without Team Penske President Tim Cindric, IndyCar Managing Director Ron Ruzewski and engineers Robbie Atkinson and Luke Mason.

As the team owner, Penske suspended all four from participating in the Month of May events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because of the push-to-pass incident.

By doing so, Penske proved Team Penske has a deep bench by moving Jonathan Diuguid and engineer Raul Prados from the Porsche Penske Motorsport sports car program to work with Newgarden in May. Diuguid was the race strategist and Prado the engineer.

“Well, those guys are pros,” Penske said. “They've all worked, as you know, on IndyCar before. I was with Diuguid many years behind the box with him, and Raul was a key leader for us, and they lead our Porsche program, and we had the week off and we called them in to take over from Tim Cindric and the team that were not going to be there.

“It was a plug and play, which just shows you how deep our bench is.”

In addition to owning the most successful team in auto-racing history, Penske also owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series since he purchased all three from the Hulman George family in 2019.

Roger Penske with Tony Hulman in 1971
Roger Penske with Tony Hulman in 1971

Despite a four-hour rain delay, the huge crowd that jammed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway returned to their seats to witness this year's race.

“Well, I think the interest in the race has just grown,” Penske explained. “We, of course, had, you know, got a black eye with COVID. We didn't have the race. We came back and started to build it back and I can tell you with, we had probably 16,000 or 17,000 more people this year than a year ago.

“The Snake Pit was full, as you could see. And the commitment there, it's a generational race. People don't give up their tickets. They keep them and just as a data point, my understanding is that we sold 27,000 tickets through yesterday, already for next year's race.

Penske, along with Penske Corporation President Bud Denker, Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles managed the impending storm that struck the Speedway Sunday morning. They could see enough dry time between two storms that would be enough to get the full 500-mile race completed on Race Day and not have to move it to Monday.

“Well, we looked at it and understood that there was this front coming through and we did a little homework,” Penske said. “It looked like it would come through fast as it did. And quite honestly, it was just lucky, I guess, we called it right and we were able to get it started and we were able to run the whole way, which was terrific.

“You have to give Doug and Mark and the whole team (credit) —Tyrone Garrison; Jason Stewart, who runs the golf course and made the place look like August. I mean, just on and on and on, Allison Melangton. We've got some real unsung heroes that you can always, some people don't even know.

“Aramark came in and took over the food services, which they did a great job. But it was totally a team effort. It’s the people that made a difference and we want to make it better for our guests every year.”

There was crowd of 347,000 fans in the stands for the race, and millions more watched the NBC telecast that peaked at 6.46 million viewers. The rating for this year’s Indianapolis 500 was 8 percent higher than in 2023.

“And, of course, we paid out almost a $19 million purse and the winner got 4.1 million or 4.2 million, which was a great payout," Penske noted.

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_16C-OWENS-INDY-500-24-2382-3.jpg

Penske also added a special touch at this year’s Indianapolis 500 by presenting all past winners of the race a special blue sports jacket with the IMS “Winged Wheels” logo. The lining of each sportscoat has photo images in the lining of the winning driver’s car and other photos from the year of his victory.

He got the idea from one of the greatest tournaments in golf.

“Well, you get a green jacket if you win the Masters, and a friend of ours said, look, that might be a great idea for Indy,” Penske recalled. “Jonathan Gibson (a key member of Penske senior management) and I talked about it, so we had the same people make the jackets and then obviously the linings with all the history of each driver's win.”

This year’s Indianapolis 500 also featured 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson competing as a rookie in the biggest race in the world. Larson was one of the stars of the month and with the exception of a speeding penalty coming down pit road on Lap 131, gave fans some memorable moments.

Unfortunately, his dream of competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series races on the same day were dashed by the long rain delay in Indianapolis, and the decision to end the 600 early because of rain.

“I have a great admiration for Kyle Larson and Rick Hendrick, who's a great friend of mine,” Penske said. “And to have them come and be there the weekend and all up to the race, qualifying and practice was certainly special for me personally, the Speedway and all the fans.

“I'm just sorry that he had the speeding penalty. Unfortunately, this place will bite you, as we all know. And then, of course, to have the rainout in Charlotte didn't help but he'll be back.

“He's certainly a guy that can win this race.”

Penske began the month fending off controversy and ended May in a more comforting, familiar place – the winning team owner of the Indianapolis 500.

This one, however, brought special redemption and satisfaction as he saw his team triumph over adversity.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500