INDIANAPOLIS — It didn’t take long for Roger Penske’s parking spot near the Pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be changed. Ever since he purchased the Speedway at the end of November 2019, his reserved spot was “18.”
That’s the number of Indianapolis 500s Penske had won as a car owner.
He had to wait for three years, but Penske finally got to celebrate his 19th Indianapolis 500 victory in victory lane with driver Josef Newgarden Sunday afternoon, Penske’s parking spot had already been updated to “19.”
“I think that group was on that when the flag flew,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said. “It’s good to start looking at 19s around here.
“We’re glad we could be part of it.”
The thrilling victory on May 28 was Penske’s first Indy 500 victory since he took over as the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He watched the race from the top of The Pagoda on an open-air deck with several timing and scoring and video screens so he could monitor activities at the track as well as keep up with his team’s three drivers including 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power, Scott McLaughlin and Newgarden.
As the owner of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske has to remain neutral.
That was, until the end of Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500.
“Well, I took my track owner hat off and became a car owner there the last two laps,” Penske quipped. “But Tim Cindric (Team Penske President) had it under control. I listened to the radio all day long, and quite honestly, to get up there and work our way through the day was amazing.
“With the red flags and everything, it could have been anybody’s race.
“But I think Newgarden showed what he’s really made of today. He was, I think, confident but yet cautious there at the end, and when it was time to go, he made it happen.
“We can’t thank him enough from the team.”
When Penske took over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman-George Family of Terre Haute, Indiana after 74 years of ownership, he turned the responsibility for running his IndyCar team over to Team Penske President Tim Cindric.
Although Penske remains the owner, Cindric has been the man responsible for the impressive and historic NTT IndyCar Series team and some of Penske’s other racing operations.
Cindric grew up on the Northwest side of Indianapolis in Pike Township and attended Pike High School where he was a basketball star. Cindric’s father, Carl, worked for Herb Porter at Speedway Engines and when Tim Cindric was younger, his father used to sneak him into Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After working for team owner Bobby Rahal, first at Rahal-Hogan Racing and later, Team Rahal, Cindric was hired by Roger Penske as the team’s president at the end of the 1999 CART season.
Since that time, the team has had impressive success at the Indianapolis 500 with Helio Castroneves winning for Team Penske in 2001, 2002 and 2009, Gil de Ferran in 2003, Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006, Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015, Will Power in 2018 and Simon Pagenaud in 2019.
After Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, however, the Team Penske had been shut out of Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500.
That changed with Newgarden’s big win on Sunday.
“I think it’s great when they talk about four years being a drought here, because I see some of the biggest teams here that went on 10- or 11-year droughts or whatever else,” Cindric said. “I think it’s a testament to the legacy that Roger has built here and the expectations we have.
“We do expect to come here and have a shot to win at it every single year, and unfortunately, we haven’t been the ones at the front of the race when it starts the past couple years.
“I think that’s been a bigger weakness, because 2019 and prior, I guess I call it the pre-wind screen era for whatever reason, whether that’s basically a coincidence or not, we haven’t been able to qualify where we are used to qualifying. It’s a little harder to make your day exactly right from the front.
“You saw today where a couple cars started in the front, had some problems, and were still able to be at the front at the end of the race. So, it’s a lot more forgiving if you’re there in the beginning, and I think that’s been the key.
“Anytime you win this race, obviously Roger has done it twice as many times or more than I have been a part of. But from the point in time where obviously we always want to win this place, but 2019 was the last time that we had won and somebody else owned the place before.
“I apologize it has taken four years to get him to start the race and put him back up there on the stage at the end of the race.
“We feel really good about that.”
Cindric also calls the race strategy for Newgarden and when he was able to nip Marcus Ericsson at the checkered flag for the victory, that set off a wild celebration on pit lane.
“Obviously, Josef has shown throughout his career that he’s a championship-caliber driver, and he’s wanted this place so bad that it was kind of going to be checkers or wreckers there at the end,” Cindric said. “You kind of knew that.
“I can’t say enough about the crew. All day long it was flawless. I think the guys, all the engineers worked together, not just from the 2-car team but everybody else to really give him a great car today.
“We were fortunate to execute. Obviously, it can be anybody’s race there at the end.”
The margin of victory was .0974. That’s the fourth closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.
After Newgarden’s victory, he climbed under the fence in a gate used for photographers and went into the grandstands to celebrate with the fans in Section 21 at the start/finish line.
“I think he was just trying to beat Helio and get up in the stands with the fans,” Penske quipped, referring to former driver Castroneves’s trademark fence climbing after a win. “We wouldn’t charge him (Newgarden) for a ticket for sure.
For the past several years, Penske’s goal has been to win the Indianapolis 500 20 times as a car owner. He gets his first shot at that lofty goal next year in the 108th Indianapolis 500 in 2024.
“We’re certainly not going to stop here,” Penske said. “I can tell you, with the team we have and the depth of our drivers, we will be back.
“The competition, though, everybody here today knows it’s never been tighter. You could see all during the race, maybe within four or five seconds you had 20 cars, and that’s what we’re racing every day. We saw it when we qualify. I think 16 inches was the difference between 1 and 2 in qualifying.
“We’re going to be back next year. I think Newgarden, this is one he wanted to check off for years. He didn’t understand why he hadn’t won the race today. He earned it.
“He won the race today, which is certainly to his credit.”
When Newgarden crossed the finish line with the checkered flag waving, Penske wildly threw his fist into the air from the top of The Pagoda as he celebrated with his wife, Kathy, his son, Greg, Penske Corporation President Bud Denker and Penske Senior Management official Jonathan Gibson.
Finally, the man who owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 had one of his cars in victory lane for Indy 500 win No. 19.
“I’d have to say the first win here back in ’72, but to come here and be the steward of the track and have the opportunity (was important),” Penske said. “I had to step away. I loved being on the pit box, running one of these cars here every year as I have been.
“But I was up on the top there. I had my scoreboard where I could see what was going on, but to see him go down by the start-finish line number one was important.
“I guess it goes almost to the top.”