Heading into Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America (12:30 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network), everyone would assume that Team Penske would be the ones to beat. I mean, Simon Pagenaud won the race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last month and the organization has won in two of the three trips to Elkhart Lake since the NTT IndyCar Series returned back in 2016.
But, despite how good they’ve been in Road America the last three years, did they figure out where they lost on natural road courses this season?
See, they’ve down right dominated this race in the past. Will Power led 46 laps in his win in 2016 and was fifth in 2017. His car engine went sour on the drop of the green flag last year after starting second.
Josef Newwgarden led 53 of the 55 laps run last year and led 13 laps in a runner-up effort in 2017. He was eighth in 2016.
Simon Pagenaud has two top seven finishes in his last three Road America tries and won at Indy in May.
That’s all good and well, but they’ve struggled on natural road courses this season. Power’s finishes are 24th, 11th and seventh respectively. Newgarden’s are second, fourth and 15th respectively. Pagenaud’s is 19th, ninth and first respectively.
Combined, that’s three top fives. That’s very unPenske like. Where that’s concerning is, half of the final eight races this season are on natural road courses. Literally. That includes the final two events and three of the last five.
So, where did the speed go?
I don’t think it necessarily went anywhere, it’s just the fact that everyone caught up. See, Penske spent a ton of time this past offseason focusing on improving their street course game. They knew that if they wanted to win another championship, going 1-for-10 in street course wins the last two years aren’t going to cut it.
So, they spent a lot of time in development in the winter months on figuring out how they can gain speed there. After the first half of the season is behind us, it worked. They’ve won two of the four street course races in 2019 and have been vastly improved.
They also remained strong on superspeedways with Pagenaud winning at Indy last month on the oval as well as Josef Newgarden winning the last race at Texas. That’s two straight Indy 500 victories for Penske and 2-for-2 on superspeedways in 2019.
What got neglected was the natural road course program. See, they’ve been so good on them, it was time to up their game elsewhere. With how competitive the series is today, other teams are going to get stronger at their weaker points.
With also how good Penske has been on these tracks, it’s only natural for everyone else to figure out how to go quicker there. In turn, it’s not necessarily led to a loss of speed but rather everyone else gaining more than them.