There have been seven different winners in the nine races IndyCar has held so far this year, but none of them have been driving for Team Penske.
The lack of wins at this point in the season by the team that’s all but synonymous with the series is more than rare; it’s almost unheard of.
The last time Team Penske failed to log a win in the first nine races of a season was back in 1999, when it was competing in the now-defunct CART series. The team only had one full time entry that year, and would remain winless during the entirety of the 20-event season.
Since then, Penske has grown in size and its program is now one of the strongest forces in the sport. The team has taken home the championship in four of the past seven seasons, with only the immense skill of Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon breaking up the winning record during that time.
So far this season, for a multitude of reasons, the perennially strong team has failed to take the top step on the podium, and has less than half of the year’s scheduled events left in which to do so.
The season got off to a particularly rough start for the 2020 championship runner up Josef Newgarden, who lost control on the opening lap of the opening round at Barber Motorsports Park. The ensuing pileup ended his day before it had a chance to get going, and seemingly set the tone for the months ahead.
Fortunately, crashes have not been the main concern for the rest of the season, neither for Newgarden nor the rest of the four car team, but there have been a multitude of different issues that have ensured a win has remained just out of grasp.
Sometimes that issue has simply been a lack of pace. At the GMR Grand Prix in early May, not a single lap was led by a Team Penske car despite a hint of good form early in the weekend.
In the Indianapolis 500, an event for which teams such as Penske set aside dedicated chassis in the shop, Will Power only barely made the field and could not even finish on the lead lap in part due to a spin entering pit road.
As the season has worn on, it has appeared that Newgarden and Power would each get their first wins of the season, only to have them snatched away cruelly in the closing laps.
Power was comfortably leading the first race from the streets of Belle Isle, when a late red flag spelled disaster. While turning the car off on pit road, Power inadvertently triggered a bug in the ECU that caused it to enter a failure state, which then would not allow the car to be refired.
The very next day, Newgarden led the entirety of the second race from Detroit, until tire strategy went against him and allowed Pato O’Ward to sweep by for the win with only two laps remaining.
Then, this past weekend, Newgarden suffered his own mechanical issues which worsened during a late race restart in Road America. A gearbox failure forced the two-time champion to pull aside from the lead and limp around the track, unable to shift out of lower gears.
Each problem the team has suffered has been unique, but each has been devastating to the bottom line. There have been no new winner’s trophies to add to the Team Penske offices since last year.
Speaking after a podium finish at Road America that was only possible due to his team-mate’s mechanical issues, Power expressed his dismay at the variety of things that have gone wrong for the team.
“They were all things that are not things that have been repeated, know what I mean?” said Power. “They’re not constantly the same things, so it’s really hard to [fix].
“That was me in Detroit. I had a glitch in the system. It hadn’t happened to anyone else, but you being the one to find it really sucks.
“You hate to be the pioneer of things that go wrong and then they fix it. But I just can’t believe the luck that we’re having as a team right now. It blows my mind.”
The season has not been a complete loss for Team Penske, however, and the four drivers have combined to stand on the podium in seven of the nine races run so far. And those good runs have resulted in the team sitting fourth and fifth in the points standings.
The drivers have also expressed over the past couple weeks that they don’t believe there is anything that the team should change in its approach.
But the reality is that anything other than a win is a loss. Sponsors want to see cars in victory lane, team owners want to congratulate their drivers in front of the cameras, and drivers certainly don’t want to finish anywhere but first.
Even with the longer-than-usual drought in race wins, the feeling in the paddock is that the team’s bad luck will not continue for much longer. And Penske is not a name that is ever very far from victory.