Sweet 16 for Penske at Indy?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Team Penske has been untouchable so far in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
Penske has won four wins in as many races this season -- all of them contested on road/street courses. Last Saturday, Ryan Briscoe kept the racing organization's pole-winning streak alive this year by capturing the top starting position for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Sunday's 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- the first oval event of the season -- might be a very sweet one for team owner Roger Penske. Not only could Penske's team win its fifth straight race this season, but the organization could claim its record-extending 16th victory in the Indy 500.
What's made Penske so successful at Indy?
"It's the people," he said. "We've had the best drivers, certainly the continuity of the crew, [Team Penske President] Tim [Cindric] leading the whole group of drivers, also the team members that makes a big difference. It's like we've never been here before when we come back, other than the experience."
The new "DW12" car (named in honor of the late-Dan Wheldon) and Chevrolet's return to IndyCar as an engine supplier have played a key role in Penske's perfection so far this season.
All three of Penske's drivers qualified in the top-six for the Indy 500. Briscoe starts on the pole for the first time in this race, while his teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, roll off from the middle and outside positions, respectively, on row two.
"I think this year with the cars being new, they seem to be very reliable, Penske said. "The guys seem to be able to drive at high speeds. We'll see what happens when the boost goes up. I think it's going to be an exciting race, and you're not going to be able to make mistakes."
Briscoe won the pole with a four-lap average of 226.484 mph. He beat Andretti Autosports' James Hinchcliffe for the top starting spot by only 0.0023 seconds, making it the closest 1-2 qualifying finish in Indy 500 history.
"It's good knowing my name will go down in history at the Indianapolis 500," Briscoe said after his pole win. "It's something that will be here forever. This race is so important and so big. A pole win here is tremendous. It's a great feeling."
Briscoe's best finish in six Indy 500 races is fifth, which came in 2007 when he made his first and only start of the season for Luczo Dragon Racing. He moved over to Penske the following year. His last IndyCar victory came in 2010 at Texas (30 races ago).
Three of Penske's 15 wins in the Indianapolis 500 have come from Helio Castroneves. Should Castroneves take the checkered flag at Indy this weekend, he would join A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as the only four-time winners of this race.
Castroneves is the only driver who won the Indy 500 consecutively in his first two starts (2001 and '02). His most recent victory in this race came in 2009. Castroneves kicked off this season by winning the March 25 race in St. Petersburg, FL.
"Roger is very passionate about racing," Castroneves said. "When you see someone with that experience and that success, and still with the love for the sport, you start to admire him, and that's why we call him 'The Captain'."
Castroneves finished ninth at Indy in 2010 and 17th there last year.
Power holds a 45-point lead in the championship standings after winning the last three races -- Birmingham, Long Beach and Brazil. He will have the opportunity to join Foyt as the only drivers to win the Indy 500 as part of a winning streak of four or more races. Foyt accomplished the feat in 1964.
Power's best finish in four Indy 500 starts is fifth (2009). He finished 14th in last year's race.
"Every year you come here, you just learn more and more and more," Power said. "I have to say this year, I feel so comfortable in the car. I understand what I want from the car. I can give the feedback to the engineer with exactly the way the direction we need to go in. I feel that on all the ovals."
Chevrolet secured nine of the top-10 starting positions for the Indy 500. Rookie Josef Newgarden, who uses a Honda engine in his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car, qualified seventh.
For Dario Franchitti to win the Indy 500 this year might be a tall order. Franchitti, who claimed his record third consecutive and fourth overall series championship last season, will start 16th in his Honda-powered Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. He is a two-time winner of this race (2007 and '10).
"It's a completely new package," Franchitti said. "So we hope we know where the weak areas are. Throughout testing and throughout the races, we've definitely found out the areas we have defects. The engine manufacturers are pushing very hard, too, Honda, Chevy and Lotus.
"I think that's one thing people were shocked with this year when there were some engine issues. We got used to running with the Honda engine, it being 100 percent reliable. Now everyone is pushing the envelope, and there's going to be some failures. We hope we'll be in good shape to run the 500 miles."
Franchitti teammate, Scott Dixon, will start one spot ahead of him in 15th.
Castroneves, Franchitti and Dixon are the only drivers in this year's starting field that have won the Indy 500 in the past. Dixon's victory in this race occurred in 2008.
Lotus, which also entered the sport as an engine manufacturer this year, has its two drivers starting from the tail end of the field for the Indy 500. Simona de Silvestro (HVM Racing) and Jean Alesi (FP Journe) qualified 32nd and 33rd in that order.
Teams will have one last opportunity to practice and fine tune their cars for the 500-mile race in Friday's "Carb Day."
Series: IZOD IndyCar. Date: Sunday, May 27. Race: Indianapolis 500. Site: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile oval. Start time: 11:00 a.m. (ET). Laps: 200. Miles: 500. 2011 Winner: Dan Wheldon. Television: ABC. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.
05/23 18:07:57 ET