2021 was a lackluster year for Team Penske. With four full time efforts and Roger Penske turning his focus to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was not a Penske perfect season for either of the teams four cars. In 2022, the team will move to a three car effort with the departure of 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud. Penske returns Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin.
Newgarden was the only Penske driver in 2021 to be in contention for the championship. Josef snagged four poles, two wins and a runner-up finish in the championship standings. Pagenaud and Power found themselves 8th and 9th respectively in the final standings. Scott McLaughlin grabbed Rookie of the Year honors, with a best finish of second at Texas. Power continued his streak with at least one win in each of his thirteen seasons with Penske, winning the second road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August.
I expect Newgarden to contend for his third IndyCar title in 2022. He has never finished below 5th in the championship during his tenure with Team Penske, and I don’t see that changing. As we learned in 2021, you can only afford two bad races in a season to be a title contender. The addition of Iowa to the schedule gives Newgarden two more opportunities to secure victories at a track he has won at three times and finished second twice. Newgarden owns an average finish of 2.4 at the Iowa Speedway in his previous nine starts at the bullring.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Newgarden hasn’t been in contention for an Indy 500 win over the last few years. In his time at Penske, he has only managed to lead 24 laps at the 500. A qualifying effort of 21st at the 500 last year all but eliminated his chances for a win or a top 5 finish, and with double points at the 500, a good finish at Indy is key to a championship.
PROJECTION: Newgarden isn’t going away anytime soon. The expectation for Team Penske is to be in contention for every win. Newgarden will find victory lane on multiple occasions including at the series return to Iowa Speedway.
Avoiding a sophomore slump and making progress at Indianapolis is the name of the game for McLaughlin. Some IndyCar weekends were a bit shorter than usual in 2021 and going back to tracks for a second time should show the talent McLaughlin has. He finished Top 10 in three of the four oval races including an impressive second place at Texas and fourth at Gateway.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Again, getting back to these tracks for a second or third time will help McLaughlin find a rhythm. Street courses were not friendly to the Aussie, averaging a 17th place finish on the five street circuits.
PROJECTION: Projection: McLaughlin will avoid a sophomore slump and find himself on the podium a few times. With the competition level like it is in IndyCar, I’m not ready to predict a win, but crazier things have certainly happened.
Power had his most inconsistent season since joining Team Penske. From bad luck (Detroit) to mistakes in the pits, Power notched one win and four podiums, while also finishing 20th or worse in four races. Power re-signed with Team Penske for the next two years, which will more than likely be his final two. I expect the Aussie to snag another race win or two, especially on the IMS road course. Power has won five times at the IMS Grand Prix, and with two races on the schedule, look for him to continue his dominance at the boss’s road course.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Mental mistakes. It seems 2-3 times a year, Power makes an overly aggressive move too early in a race and knocks him out of contention. Pit road mistakes always seem to creep up on the 12 team at least once or twice a year. Qualifying and running better at Indy is something to improve on as well. Since winning the Indy 500 in 2018, Power has qualified 6th, 22nd and 32nd at the Indianapolis 500.
PROJECTION: Power is locked in at Penske for another two seasons. He has recorded a pole position in thirteen consecutive seasons and has recorded a win in 14 straight seasons. I don't think Power will contend for a championship, but I certainly see these streaks continuing with at least one pole and one win in 2022.
CHAMPIONSHIP PROJECTION ODDS
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