2018 INDYCAR Season Review

November 28, 2018

With three championship-winning drivers on one team racing a brand new car, there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation surrounding the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season for Team Penske.

As the team prepared for the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg back in March, it was clear that 2018 would bring some changes and new challenges. In addition to adapting to the new Dallara IC-12 chassis with the universal aero kit for the new season, Team Penske entered the year as the defending series champions with Josef Newgarden and the Verizon/Hitachi Chevrolet team carrying the champ’s No. 1 car designation for the year. Beginning the season without the familiar face of Helio Castroneves (who would return to the series for the Month of May) as a full-time member of the INDYCAR program also brought an adjustment as the longtime racer transitioned to the Acura Team Penske sports car team.  

After competing with the champion’s No. 1 car following his 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series title, Simon Pagenaud returned to the No. 22 DXC Technology/Menards Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet last season, alongside 2014 series champ Will Power and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet team.

On the strength of three drivers and teams capable of producing wins each and every weekend while fighting for the series championship, the 2018 season provided many memorable moments, including Team Penske’s 200th INDYCAR win, reaching the 500-win milestone as an organization and the team’s record 17th Indianapolis 500 victory.

While a win in the season opener at St. Pete wasn’t in the cards, Team Penske quickly found success at the second race of 2018. Newgarden made a strong statement in his effort to defend his title as he captured the checkered flag at ISM Raceway near Phoenix driving the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet. The following week at Long Beach, Power battled Alexander Rossi hard for the victory in the closing laps of the race. Ultimately, Rossi captured the win as Power finished second for his first podium result of the season.

After persistent rain delayed the late April Sunday afternoon race at Barber Motorsports Park, the event was completed on Monday afternoon. Newgarden and the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet team conquered the elements as they claimed their second win of the season after starting on the pole and leading an incredible 73 of 82 laps on the challenging Alabama road course.

With wins in two of the first four races of the season, the stage was set for one of the most memorable months of May in Team Penske’s 52-year history. May began with an incredible milestone – the team’s 200th all-time INDYCAR victory – delivered by Power and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team. Power claimed his first win of 2018 as he produced his third career victory in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Helio Castroneves returned to the Team Penske INDYCAR lineup for the Month of May at Indianapolis, as he was back behind the wheel of his familiar No. 3, racing the Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet at the INDYCAR Grand Prix before competing in the Pennzoil Team Penske Chevy in the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves didn’t miss a beat as he finished sixth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix while building momentum for his quest to earn a record-tying fourth career Indianapolis 500 win. Unfortunately, a late-race incident on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval forced an early retirement for Castroneves in the Indy 500. The popular Brazilian racer will get another opportunity at making history in 2019, however, as Castroneves will once again compete in both the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske next season.

The international stage of the Indianapolis 500 provided a great opportunity for all four Team Penske INDYCAR teams to shine and Sunday, May 27 became a historical day for the team at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”  All four Team Penske entries earned starting positions inside the top 10, with both Pagenaud and Power earning front-row spots alongside pole winner Ed Carpenter.

Power ran strong throughout the 500-mile race, racing among the leaders while taking full advantage of a fast car, sound strategy and great pit stops by the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew. He led 59 laps in all and moved to the front over the final five laps to claim his first career Indy 500 win, the first-ever by an Australian driver and the record 17th victory by Team Penske in the legendary race.  

Pagenaud and the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet started the Indianapolis 500 in the second position and ultimately earned a top-10 finish, coming home in sixth place for his career-best result over his seven seasons racing at Indy. Newgarden and the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet began the race in the fourth position and produced an eighth-place finish to give Team Penske three top-10 Indy 500 results.

After the whirlwind Month of May, Team Penske advanced to the Motor City for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix and INDYCAR’s only doubleheader weekend with races on both Saturday and Sunday. Power produced the team’s lone podium result from the weekend as the newly-crowned Indy 500 champion No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team finished second in Sunday’s race.

A long stretch of six consecutive weekends of competition concluded at Texas Motor Speedway with a return to oval racing. Newgarden and the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet team won their third pole of the season, but it was Pagenaud that produced the top team result in the Saturday night race as he finished second in the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet.

Newgarden and the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet team turned in a dominant performance at the classic Road America road course to complete the month of June for Team Penske. Newgarden and the team swept the weekend results as they won the pole and scored their third win of the season after leading an incredible 53 of 55 laps.

Following a tough finish at Road America, Power and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team bounced back to win the Verizon P1 Pole Award at Iowa Speedway – the 52nd of Power’s INDYCAR career. The race results weren’t as promising for Team Penske on the short oval, however, as Newgarden generated the top finish of fourth-place among the three team entries.

Returning to the Streets of Toronto as the defending race winner, Newgarden started strong north of the border as he claimed his fourth and final pole of the season in the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet. Pagenaud generated the top Team Penske Toronto race result as he came home second driving the No. 22 DXC Technology/Verizon Chevrolet.

At the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in late July, all three Team Penske teams earned top-10 results led by Power, who finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.

Building momentum for a run at the series championship, Power and the No. 12 team won the pole at Pocono and he looked to be in a good position to claim his third consecutive win at the “Tricky Triangle.” However, Power was not able to overtake Rossi in the final laps of the 500-mile event and ultimately earned a second-place finish.

Power and the Verizon Chevy team kept their late-season surge going with an impressive win at Gateway Motorsports Park to bring the month of August to a close. Power started fourth at Gateway and led 93 laps on the way to his third and final win of the season and his 35th career INDYCAR victory.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Portland International Raceway for the first time in more than a decade on Labor Day weekend. While the racing was exciting and the fans embraced the return of the series, Team Penske was not able to produce the results it was hoping for in the penultimate race of 2018. Both Newgarden and Power experienced issues in the race while Pagenaud earned a sixth-place finish in the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet for the team’s top result. Both Newgarden and Power left Portland tied for third place in the series point standings with an opportunity to fight or the championship in the series finale.

The battle for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series crown came down to a road course showdown at Sonoma Raceway. With four drivers in contention for the championship, including series leader Scott Dixon, Rossi, Newgarden and Power, the title was up for grabs with double points awarded in the final race. Newgarden and Power entered the weekend 87 points behind Dixon so both Team Penske drivers needed a big performance in order for the team to secure its fourth title in five years.

While all three Team Penske drivers produced top-10 results, Dixon claimed the title with a second-place finish. Power and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet finished third in the race and wound up third in the final championship standings as well. Newgarden finished eighth at Sonoma in the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet and he followed up his championship season ranked fifth in title chase. Although Pagenaud and the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevy team were not in championship contention at Sonoma, they finished the race in the fourth position and closed the season sixth in the point standings.

Although the team did not realize its championship dreams at Sonoma, it was an historic day for Team Penske as Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup Series race just a few hundred miles away at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Team Penske’s 500th all-time victory.

Overall, the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season was a memorable one for Team Penske as the team collectively produced six wins, eight pole positions, 18 top-five and 39 top-10 finishes.

The Indianapolis 500 victory shines as the brightest moment of the season for Team Penske and Power knows that 2018 was a year he will always cherish.

“What a season. I still pinch myself when I think about the Indy 500. That was a day I’ll never forget. We had some other big wins including winning the 200th INDYCAR race for Roger (Penske) which was also really cool,” said Power. “I feel really good about the 2019 season already. We have a few tests coming up and my team has been working really hard comparing data so we’re ready to try a few things out. It’s going to be really cool to start the season knowing we’re the defending Indy 500 champions which is something new to me and I love it. Because of that, I’m really looking forward to next season’s Indianapolis 500, especially. Going into the race being the defending winner is going to be really cool and to top it off, it’s the 50th anniversary of Roger’s first race at Indy. There’s just so much to be excited for and I can’t wait to get it started in St. Petersburg.”

Reflecting back on his season, Newgarden was proud of the team’s efforts and he believes falling short of the goal to “Defend the 1” has added even more motivation this offseason.

“The 2018 season was pretty tough. We had some great success winning races but we were still looking for more,” said Newgarden. “We’re ready to move forward and can’t wait to get back on track in 2019. My team has been hard at work ever since our car returned to our shop after Sonoma to get ready for next season. We may be in the offseason but these guys are nonstop. We have some testing planned during the next few months before the big pre-season test at COTA (in February), and we have a lot of things we’re ready to try out. There’s going to be a lot to be excited for in 2019. The series will return to racing at Laguna Seca and will race at COTA for the first time. The Indianapolis 500 will also be really special as it will be the 50th anniversary of Roger’s first race there as a team owner. There’s just a lot to look forward to and I’m really ready for it.”

Though he enjoyed some solid results this season, Pagenaud is ready to put the 2018 season behind him and start focusing on what he expects will be a big year for he and Team Penske in 2019.

“We had a pretty tough start of the season in 2018 but we really picked it up in the second half and learned a lot,” said Pagenaud.  “Adjusting to the new car package was definitely a challenge but we are ready to make a good charge to the front starting at St. Petersburg in 2019. During the offseason I’ve been spending a lot of time in the simulator and brainstorming with my team and teammates.  With our tests during over the next few months, we’re putting together a really solid plan that makes me wish it was already March so we were racing at St. Petersburg. Next season will be really exciting since we’ll be racing at Laguna Seca and COTA which will be new for the INDYCAR schedule. I look forward to racing at these beautiful venues and to see how our cars will perform there.”