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Sunday, May 26, 2024

IndyCar’s Owner and His Team Were Caught Cheating. Now What?

  • Roger Penske owns IndyCar and fields a team of three drivers.
  • Two of his drivers have been retroactively disqualified from the season opener.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most powerful U.S. figures in motor sports is enveloped in a scathing cheating scandal that could have a wide-reaching impact.

Roger Penske (above, left), 87, is the owner of racing teams that have seen their drivers win four NASCAR Cup Series championships and a whopping 24 IndyCar Series titles. In 2019, the billionaire struck a deal believed to be worth as much as $300 million to buy the entire IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the sport’s most famous race—the Indianapolis 500.

Since that purchase, Team Penske has won the 2022 IndyCar Series championship, and it started this year strong with its three drivers all finishing in the top four at the season-opening St. Petersburg Grand Prix—a race that drew just under one million viewers on NBC (down 18% from the ’23 race) as IndyCar continues negotiations for a new media-rights deal. But late Wednesday night, IndyCar announced that St. Pete race winner Josef Newgarden (above, right) and third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin were being retroactively disqualified as part of penalties levied against Team Penske for rule violations at the March 10 race.

Here’s What Happened

IndyCar uses a system called “push to pass,” or P2P, which is somewhat similar to Formula One’s drag reduction system, or DRS, that allows cars a limited amount of time to accelerate faster than normal and leads to more exciting racing with extra overtakes. That system isn’t supposed to be used during race starts and restarts, and it is normally turned on and off by race officials.

During warmups for this past weekend’s Long Beach Grand Prix, IndyCar says it discovered a manipulation by Team Penske. After reviewing data from St. Petersburg, it determined that Newgarden and McLaughlin both illegally used P2P during restarts. It was also determined that Penske driver Will Power had the ability to use P2P when he should not have, but he didn’t use it. Still, all three driver entries were docked 10 points, fined $25,000, and are forfeiting prize money from that race, which isn’t disclosed.

Was There More?

There was no mention in the series’ statement of whether Team Penske illegally deployed P2P at the IndyCar $1 Million Challenge on March 24, when McLaughlin finished second and took home $350,000. That all-star-style race offered the biggest purse outside of the Indy 500 this year. Team Penske took fault for the violation, although it appears to be inferring that it was a mistake, and not intentional. Roger Penske told the Associated Press he was “embarrassed,” while fellow IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi called it a “blemish” on Penske’s team.

IndyCar is also represented by teams owned by motor-sports powerhouses like McLaren, the longtime F1 juggernaut, and Michael Andretti, who is trying to enter F1 as an expansion team. The series has been hoping to see a slight media-rights fee increase over the $20 million it is said to receive annually from NBC after the deal expires this year, but a cheating scandal like this won’t be good for any part of IndyCar’s business as it looks to attract new partners.

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