This is the last race before the most crucial month of the entire NTT IndyCar Series season. Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) always boasts a ton of punch, but throw in that it’s the last race for a month and the next race is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, well there’s more pressure added.
Simon Pagenaud stands in pit lane during the race weekend at the Barber Motorsports Park – INDYCAR Media Site
For a team like Team Penske, pressure is on even more.
Josef Newgarden is on a roll and honestly the championship favorite right now. He leads the standings heading into this weekend’s race. Newgarden, won the season opener on the streets of St. Pete and has followed that up with finishes of second (COTA) and fourth (Barber).
“Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned at Barber,” said the Tennessee native. “But coming from a 16th starting spot to finish fourth, the No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet team and I felt like it was a win. We’re off to such a great start this season with nothing but top-five finishes so far, and we’re really hoping to continue that streak as we head into Long Beach.
“It’s just such a cool city and there’s so much history with this event. Street courses like Long Beach are really fun, but also really challenging due to the difference in track surface in comparison to a road course or oval. Plus, it’s awesome that our IMSA team competes there at the same weekend, so it’s cool to be able to root for those guys from the other side of the paddock.”
If Newgarden can qualify better, then watch out.
He hasn’t made the Fast Six in either of the last two races and that has cost him wins.
But, he’s the only one for Penske competing.
Will Power has had some bad luck. He’s led 62 laps already in 2019 including all 45 laps before his pit stop in a bad luck situation at COTA but his finishes aren’t there. Power, was never a factor in COTA and finished a disappointing 11th. He’s only scored five top five finishes since the start of last June.
This week though, Power says they have a car capable of a podium finish for a second straight year.
“The No. 12 Verizon Chevy team and myself have gone over our data from what was a frustrating day at Barber and have a great plan for us to get back on track at Long Beach,” said Power. “They’re preparing a really good car that I think will allow us to make a run for the podium. I’m a big fan of street courses in general, but that place is really special. It really is one of the legendary races on the schedule. We’ve had a lot of success there and we can’t wait to race this weekend.”
Simon Pagenaud needs to step it up too. He’s qualified 13th, 22nd and 14th respectively this year. He’s only finished seventh, 19th and ninth respectively. That has him 12th in the series standings. Unfortunately, while Pagenaud has been a top 10 machine, he hasn’t been in contention for top five’s much recently. Since the start of the 2018 season, he has just four top five finishes in his No. 22 Chevrolet. While he does have 16 top 10 finishes in his last 20 starts, to not be scoring top five’s in a Penske car has him in an uncharacteristically bad spot.
“This season is going to be a very interesting one,” Pagenaud said. “The No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet team has great potential that we haven’t fully unlocked yet. The race car is competitive and there is no better place for me than Long Beach. It’s my favorite track on the schedule and also a place where I’ve had a lot of success. We won there in 2016 – marking my first win for Team Penske, and I’m hungry for more. Let’s see what California brings us. It’s going to be a very exciting weekend with such a great crowd and amazing festivity. I can’t wait to go out there and give it 100 percent. I will also be watching my teammates in the Acura Team Penske DPi and I wish them good luck for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.”
Penske is used to having all three cars competing for not just race wins, but championships too. Reality of it is right now, just Newgarden is the only ones that has a shot right now.
That’s why Long Beach is so key for the entire Penske group.
Newgarden, finished third in this race in 2017 but that’s his lone top five in seven tries. Power came home runner-up in this race a year ago but that was his only top five finish since 2015. Furthermore, he only has two top five finishes over the last six years in Long Beach.
Pagenaud has six top eight finishes in seven tries on the scenic street circuit including five of which being in the top five.
Can all three drivers shine on Sunday or will they enter Indy reeling?