Analysis: Penske rebounds from IndyCar cheating scandal with a hot streak that stretches to NASCAR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If you come for The Captain, you better not miss your shot.

Under fire at a level perhaps never seen before in his 87 years, Roger Penske has rebounded with a truly remarkable display of strength and determination. His IndyCar team in April was found to have an illegal advantage in a cheating scandal that threatened lasting damage to the Penske brand.

It came at the same time rival team owners were openly complaining about Penske's leadership as owner of the IndyCar Series, which he acquired along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2020. His NASCAR team was mired in the same funk as the other Ford teams struggling to find victory lane.

The response from Team Penske has proven the mettle of the organization he has built.

Since IndyCar discovered the illegal push-to-pass software, Team Penske has won three of five IndyCar races. That stretch includes grabbing the front row in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which Josef Newgarden won for the second consecutive time; and a podium sweep in Wisconsin, where Will Power ended a two-year losing streak and took over the IndyCar championship standings.

His sports car program picked up a win at Laguna Seca and the pole at Spa. And even though Penske didn't win the 24 Hours of Le Mans over the weekend, one of his three cars started from the pole — the first time a Penske car had been on pole at the world's most prestigious endurance race since 1963, when Penske himself was in the driver lineup.

His NASCAR team is now leading the way for Ford in figuring out the new Mustang Dark Horse. Joey Logano won the exhibition $1 million All-Star race in May, and after coming up empty in the first 15 races of the season, Team Penske has wins in two of the last three events.

Austin Cindric won outside St. Louis, his first victory since his 2022 rookie season-opening Daytona 500 surprise, Logano followed with the pole at Sonoma and Ryan Blaney added a win Sunday night in the Cup Series debut at Iowa Speedway.

For those counting, that's seven victories across three series since IndyCar branded Team Penske cheaters. The two NASCAR wins locked Cindric and Blaney into the playoffs; Newgarden's win at Indy extended Penske's record to 20 victories in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and came after Penske had suspended four team members, including team president Tim Cindric.

“All of Team Penske, they work really hard to be ahead of the game,” Blaney said at Iowa. “Engineers and crew chiefs are great. I think it’s a huge testament as an organization.”

As he let his drivers do their jobs on the track, Penske behind the scenes was finalizing a new television deal with Fox Sports that begins next season. Terms were not released, but in response to IndyCar team owner complaints that Penske hasn’t done enough to market the series, he landed a deal that guaranteed the entire season will air on the network most familiar to American racing fans.

Although IndyCar has enjoyed a healthy relationship with NBC Sports for 16 years — and NBC's Peacock app devotes hundreds of hours to the series — NBC doesn't have the scheduling room to avoid placing IndyCar races on cable. NBC earlier this season moved the crown jewel race at Long Beach, California, to the USA Network and received just over 300,000 viewers; the race had 1.026 million viewers in 2023 when it was aired on NBC.

Penske has clearly stepped up during a crisis and shown just how deep his empire is and the loyalty his employees have to honoring him and his brand.

“I feel bad for Roger, that whole thing that happened,” Power said. "If you’re a team like Penske, people like to pound you if something like that happens — ‘Ha, ha, we knew that’s how you guys are fast.’

“But I know how much work goes into it. I know they don’t even venture into the gray. It frustrates me at time because I know other teams do. But they will not do that just because of that brand. Roger won’t allow that brand to be tarnished with cheating allegations,” Power added. “We don’t do that."

Penske in early May concluded his investigation into the scandal, took decisive action in issuing team suspensions, and told his drivers to go be “Penske Perfect” on the racetrack.

Wow, have they delivered.

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