Fort Worth, TX – I wrote earlier in the week that Team Penske’s season has gone in stages. Through the first two races of the year they’ve led just 18 total laps, or nine percent. Then, they had a dominating run in the next three races, leading all but 14 of the 425 combined laps, or 97-percent. But, they’ve had a rough stretch since, until tonight.
Entering tonight, they led just 30 total laps over the last 340 total laps in the last three races, or eight percent. But, like I wrote this week, I wondered if the strong finishes in the second Belle Isle duel would propel them to a good night at Texas.
Penske put two cars on the podium last Sunday and three in the top five.
In tonight’s Rainguard 600 at the Texas Motor Speedway, they were stellar. No, they didn’t qualify well, starting ninth (Will Power), 10th (Helio Castroneves) 12th (Simon Pagenaud) and 17th (Josef Newgarden), but they raced really well.
For the second straight race, they’d put two cars on the podium, this time, one was celebrating in victory lane.
Outside of Castroneves, who was hit by James Hinchcliffe in the pits on Lap 41, then had a tire go down on Lap 90 causing his No. 3 Chevrolet to make hard contact into the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 2, the other three ran incredibly well.
Newgarden, improved 16 spots and was battling for the lead by Lap 32. He’d run up front in the end but crash with 47 to go and finish 13th. Power would lead a race-high 180 laps and win in dominating fashion, while Pagenaud finished third.
Now, they head to Road America next after the much needed week off, a spot where they led all but two laps a year ago. Combine that with them leading all but 14 laps on natural road courses this season, and it’s clear these guys are the ones to beat again.