Krupa: Penske boys find formula of success

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Simon Pagenaud exits a turn during Saturday's Dual 1 on Belle Isle.

Detroit – The Penske boys have a lot of success, but they certainly have a rambunctious way of getting it.

Watching them race, sometimes it is as if they are barely behaving. It is almost as if an adult should enter the room to settle the kids down. Maybe suggest a little timeout.

But, entrepreneur though he might be, Roger Penske likes the racing part of racing.

And, especially given the level of talent of the men in each of his four cockpits, it all feels like an unruly formula for success.

The approach is striking in a sport in which team rules — avoiding disaster and maximizing points — often prevail.

The Penske boys do not see it that way.

They persist in their ways, even though last season it ended their hopes for a third IndyCar championship for Penske in the last race at Sonoma.

As this year’s IndyCar season reached the halfway point at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park this weekend, Penske’s driver Simon Pagenaud led for the championship. Helio Castroneves is third, and well within striking distance.

Will Power’s big win in the second Belle Isle race Sunday offered some encouragement that either he or his nemesis Juan Pablo Montoya might yet be heard from in the run up to the championship, to be swarded after the last race, Sept. 18.

A teammate as a nemesis? Does it make much sense to have a guy on your side as an archrival?

It does, apparently, if you drive for Team Penske.

Sibling rivalry

Searching for a rebound from a disappointing 100th Indianapolis 500, and racing at Belle Isle Park, essentially the team’s home course, Power saved the weekend Sunday and series leader Pagenaud finished second.

“Very happy for Roger,” said Pagenaud, who has an 80-point lead over second-place Scott Dixon, who finished fifth. “This is a one, two. This is Roger Penske’s hometown and this is a Penske organization track. So, pretty happy.”

Happy even though the enormously aggressive move his teammate Power put on him Lap 52 could well have caused both men to crash, putting a significant dent in Pagenaud’s series lead, had it not been performed so flawlessly.

“He got me,” Pagenaud said after the race, with a shrug of the shoulders. “That’s what it is.

“I tried, but he had the outside lane. I’ve got to tell you, he had to break really late to make that one stick.”

Yes, and all with the series lead potentially at stake.

And that was just a small part of the contretemps among the Team Penske members all weekend.

Montoya and Power raced each other to the edge on Saturday, with both executing passed that came scant inches from putting the other into a wall.

On Sunday, when Montoya attempted to pass a slower Power early in the race, Power blocked him. Montoya demurred. But only for an instant.

Then he bull-rushed his teammate, nearly forcing him into a wall for the second time in 24 hours.

It is just part of the on-track aggression between the two racers that began the instant Montoya joined Castroneves and Power on the team a few seasons ago. But off the track, as they interacted around Detroit this week, Power and Montoya seem to get along fine.

When they looked at some racing automobiles on display along the Detroit River near the Rattlesnake Club on Thursday, they looked and sounded like two brothers at the Detroit International Auto Show discussing the features of some cars.

Let ’em race

Power and Montoya might be the high-profile tussle. But they are not the only fellows who play for keeps on Team Penske.

After a yellow flag Sunday, with Pagenaud taking the green in P1 and Castroneves in P2, the ever-smiling, ever-pleasant Castroneves was all over the rear of his teammate and series leader.

This time, Pagenaud blocked.

This time, Castroneves waited for but a moment before overtaking his mate in another high-anxiety, textbook maneuver that sprang him into the lead.

Later, it was Power on Pagenaud on 52. And Pagenaud nearly sought revenge, creeping up to the rear of Power on the last lap.

Pagenaud smiled after the race at taking a peek at the lead, right before the checkered flag.

Would he have attempted a pass, even then?

“I tried,” he said.

It might be the best way to keep four talented drivers happy. But is it the way to win a championship?

Last year at Sonoma, with Montoya and Power competing for the title, Montoya took out his teammate in Turn 4 on Lap 39. The move aborted their hunt for the championship.

“Roger was a racer,” Power said, recalling the boss’s career before the offer of a Chevrolet dealership in Pennsylvania took Penske from behind the wheel in 1965.

“There are not team rules,” Sunday’s winner said. “He lets us race.”