ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Like a rudderless ship, Team Penske couldn’t find victory lane without its Captain at the KOHLER Grand Prix.
Despite having what appeared the four dominant cars all weekend at Road America and taking the first four positions in Verizon P1 Award qualifying on Saturday, the team with the most wins in Indy car history didn’t add one to the tally in Sunday’s race. Wrapping up second through fifth places still left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Team Penske drivers, who competed this weekend without team owner Roger Penske on hand.
Helio Castroneves did claim his 50th career Indy car pole position and finished third in the race in the No. 3 REV Group Chevrolet. Josef Newgarden finished second in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Chevrolet to give Team Penske two-thirds of the podium, but it was Scott Dixon of rival Chip Ganassi Racing who drove away with the win.
Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Chevy) placed fourth and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevy) fifth for Team Penske, but on a weekend when the team owner nicknamed the “Captain” was outside the United States on business, four out of the top five doesn’t cut it when first place isn’t among them.
“It's kind of disappointing that Team Penske didn't get the win here considering how strong all of the cars were,” Castroneves said. “That's the way it goes sometimes.”
Castroneves and Newgarden combined to lead the first 30 laps on the 4.014-mile permanent road course, but Dixon passed Newgarden for first place on a Lap 31 restart move and never looked back. Newgarden did go toe-to-toe with Dixon in the late stages as the two exchanged best lap times, but never found an opportunity to retake the lead.
“It stings a little bit coming home second when you feel like you have a winning car,” Newgarden said. “Scott was great today, so was Ganassi Racing. Those guys did a great job, certainly very deserving of the win. But that's tough coming up a little bit short.”
The 26-year-old Tennessee native felt like a sitting duck when Dixon made the decisive pass on the outside heading into Turn 1 on the restart following the first full-course caution of the 55-lap race. Newgarden was on the harder Firestone primary tires while Dixon was on the softer red-sidewall alternates.
“I felt like when the caution came out and we were on the (Firestone) primary tires, Helio and Scott had the alternates, I thought this is probably not going to be very good on the restart,” he admitted. “It was hard to get temperature in them to get up to speed for the restart.”
“It was an ill-timed caution. If that didn't come out, we would have gotten 10 laps or so on the tires (and) we would have been OK.
“Tough coming up short, but a great weekend for us at Team Penske. We were strong all weekend, just didn't get it done when it counted in the race, so that's going to sting.”
Castroneves tried to take consolation in the big picture for the championship. While Dixon extended his points lead to 34 over Pagenaud, Castroneves moved into third place, 37 points out of first place.
“At the end of the day, it was a good day for the points championship,” said the dejected Castroneves.
Fourth-place finisher Pagenaud joined his teammates in feeling crestfallen.
"It's a little disappointing that a Team Penske car didn't win today, but no complaints about the No. 1 Menards Chevy,” said Pagenaud, the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “Congratulations to the Dixon team, they did a great job.
“We did all that we could do. There were a lot of different tire strategies in play. We were one of the few teams that started on (primary) blacks and it worked for us. We just never had the opportunity to get around some cars and make more noise.”
Power, the 2016 race winner, never truly got going to put up a proper fight for the win and was left to finish as the caboose of the Penske top-five train.
"We were just caught up in things all day,” said Power. “The Verizon Chevy was fantastic, just as it had been all weekend. I battled good with Dixon on that first stint. Maybe we could have gone one more lap on that first set of tires, but the fuel numbers might not have worked out, so we played it safe. My hat is off to Scott.”
After 10 of 17 races, Power is sixth in the standings, three points behind fifth-place Newgarden. The next Verizon IndyCar Series event is the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway on July 9. Live coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.