Why We Don’t Want This to Happen

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We all saw the news on Monday morning, when Team Penske announced a contingency plan for this weekend’s race if Josef Newgarden is not cleared to drive on Thursday. Santino Ferrucci is currently on standby, in case Newgarden still has some lingering effects from his crash at Iowa, while leading last Sunday. Newgarden appeared normal in his interview with NBC shortly after his crash, but he apparently fainted afterward and cut the back of his head. The word concussion has never been mentioned by IndyCar or team officials – only by those speculating.

When it was announced that Ferrucci was on standby, my thought was that it’s smart to snag a good driver so quickly. That’s the way Roger Penske operates – he is seldom caught unprepared, and this gives the team a good driver “just in case”. That’s about as much thought as I gave this, because I fully believe that Newgarden will be in the cockpit of the No. 2 when practice gets underway Friday morning.

Some people looked at this announcement differently. They saw this as a golden opportunity for Santino Ferrucci to show what he can do in a top-level ride. Since Ferrucci first showed up in the NTT IndyCar Series, driving a handful of races for Dale Coyne in 2018 – he has not been in the best equipment. He has driven for Dale Coyne, a part-time third car at Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Dreyer & Reinbold and Juncos Hollinger Racing. Although these were considered by most to be second and third tier teams, Ferrucci made the most of the majority of these opportunities.

This year alone, he substituted for a concussed Jack Harvey at Texas. That had to be an awkward situation, since that was the car Ferrucci spent most of 2021 auditioning to drive. Regardless of the awkwardness, Ferrucci drove the car to a ninth place finish after little time in the car for the weekend – giving that car its best finish this season. He followed that up with a tenth-place finish in this year’s Indianapolis 500, in his first and only drive for Dreyer & Reinbold.

His tenth-place finish in this year’s 500 is his worst performance in the Indianapolis 500. In his previous starts, he finished seventh, fourth and sixth. As a rookie, Ferrucci caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who was in the NBC booth. Ferrucci dazzled the NASCAR star with his moves on-track and his friendly demeanor off-track.

Ferrucci’s immature acts while racing in Europe as a teenager, have been held against him by some fans, but most would say that Ferrucci is a fan favorite in IndyCar. He is very approachable and fan-friendly, and he is very exciting to watch on-track. Count me as a big fan of Santino Ferrucci.

But I do not want to see him in the No. 2 Team Penske car this weekend.

If Ferrucci is in that car this weekend, that mean Josef Newgarden is essentially knocked out of contention for this year’s championship. Regardless if you are a Newgarden fan or not, I am hoping that all fans want a championship decided by merit, skill and teamwork – not by doctors and bad luck. Some will say that when Newgarden’s right-rear shock failed and sent his car helplessly backing into the Turn Four wall at Iowa, that was the indirectly the team’s fault. Perhaps that’s so, and his crash and poor finish will rightly affect the championship. As hard a hit as it was, it was unusual for a driver to faint later in the day – hitting his head in the process.

If Newgarden is unable to drive, then I’ll be right there with everyone else – wanting to see how well Ferrucci does in one of the best cars on the grid. But, don’t openly cheer for it!

I frequently complain about some of the IndyCar-related Facebook groups I’m in. There are some really good photos and comments in them, but the ridiculous posts and asinine comments sometimes overshadow the good things within the groups.

Yesterday I came across this post, which irritated me. If someone reading this posted it, my apologies for calling you out, but you are wrong. I removed the name of the person and the group to avoid embarrassment.

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There is so much that is wrong in these three lines – grammatically and otherwise. In IndyCar, most fans know that it takes all three to win – the car, the driver and the team. In Formula One, it is much more dependent on the car; but in IndyCar – it takes all three.

Granted, the anonymous poster was tactful and tried not to sound like he was glad that Newgarden may not be fit to drive – but that was basically what he was saying. I want Newgarden in the car for several reasons. First and foremost, I don’t want Newgarden or any other driver to be injured. Second, I want to see an exciting championship battle involving as many drivers as possible, going to the final race at Laguna Seca. Newgarden is currently third, but only thirty-four points behind Marcus Ericsson.

I want to see how this plays out. I don’t want any contenders taken out by an injury or medical condition. I want to see the championship decided on the track, not in a doctor’s office. Am I curious to see what Santino Ferrucci might do in a Penske car? Of course, I am – but not at the expense of the championship.

I’ve even seen where some people are comparing it to when Will Power initially got his Penske ride by filling in for Helio Castroneves during his tax evasion trial in 2009. That ended up being for only one race, but it led to a part-time ride for Power that season and he went fulltime in 2010.

I don’t think that’s happening here. For one thing, Power had much of the offseason to prepare and gel with the team. Ferrucci has had less than a week. At that time, Team Penske was a two-car team; Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe., and they were already thinking about expanding to three. Penske just pared down from four cars to three, just this season. I don’t expect then to go back to four cars for a while, if ever.

One possible scenario is if Team Penske is expecting a vacancy next season. I don’t think Newgarden is going anywhere, I don’t expect Power to retire after this season and I don’t think the team is looking to replace Scott McLaughlin, who already has two race wins and one pole with five races to go in only his second IndyCar season. If they were, they could use this as some sort of audition.

But I think this is nothing more than Team Penske being prepared for every possible scenario. They would be foolish not to. But please don’t look at this as a good thing if Ferrucci is in the No. 2 car this weekend. All it means is that a championship contender got eliminated this weekend without turning a wheel. That’s never a good thing.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Why We Don’t Want This to Happen”

  1. If Newgarden is not cleared to drive, which I hope does not happen I can’t say Ferrucci isn’t a intriguing replacement. I’m a little surprised he’s on the Penske list of go to’s and that means his abilities and results sought after in IndyCar. I hope this opportunity leads to a ride full time somewhere IndyCar, they need him and he is entertaining as hell to watch.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Josef Newgarden since 2017:
    93 starts, 21 wins (23%), 35 podiums (38%), 15 poles (16%), 2,607 laps led (21.7%), 4 top three championship finishes, 2 championships

    The rest of Team Penske combined since 2017:
    229 starts, 21 wins (9.2%), 61 podiums (27%), 30 poles (13%), 2,939 laps led (10.3%), 2 top three championship finishes, 0 championships

    Yeah, that’s “the car, and team. More than it is the driver winning these races.”

    • This is all quite true. An interesting stat: Josef is currently tied (with Ted Horn and Bobby Rahal) for 17th on the all time wins list, and you have to go all the way down to Alexander Rossi (who only has seven IndyCar wins to Josef’s 24) to find the next highest number of wins for a driver under 32 years old. Anybody who doesn’t think that Josef is a MAJOR contributor to his/Penske’s success over the last five years obviously has an axe to grind.

  3. Spot on George. There’s no room at Team Penske next year, and obviously I hope Josef is ok and can race this weekend. I have to bring up what you mentioned about Santino subbing for Harvey earlier this season. How big a mistake did RLL make choosing Harvey over Ferrucci? Wow! I understand why Lundgaard is in the 3rd car. He’s a money guy. But Jack’s 45 HyVee car, to the best of my knowledge, is a paid ride. That mean’s Bobby could have put anyone he wanted in that car. I imagine Jack is a nice guy, but they clearly chose the wrong driver here. What’s worse is, as you mentioned, they had half a season to test Santino out last year. They just blew it. I know folks are saying Chip will go after Veekay or Ilott if in fact Palou leaves, but I wish Chip would hire Ferrucci for the #10. Not just saying that because I like him. The guy is a racer!

    • billytheskink Says:

      Unfortunately for Ferrucci, I don’t think he was ever really under consideration for the car Harvey is in (which, despite its #45 numbering, is the former #30 that Sato drove). RLL had Harvey under contract in the middle of last season and were most likely well on their way in negotiations with him before Ferrucci even strapped into RLL’s third car at Indy last year. Ferrucci was under consideration for the car Lundgaard drives (as was Oliver Askew) and, if stories about RLL’s internal debate around the decision are to be believed, earned himself very serious consideration for the ride despite Lundgaard’s apparent funding.

      Harvey’s results this year speak for themselves, though. Not once has he been RLL’s top-finishing driver. It will be interesting to see if RLL has faith in him (or owe him too much money in a longer-term contract) and keep him in the car next year.

      • Excellent point Billy. I forgot how early Harvey announced he was leaving MSR last year. As you pointed out, he wouldn’t have announced he was leaving Shank unless that deal with RLL was already inked or thereabouts. At that time they probably either weren’t considering Santino or thought he’d moved on to Nascar.

  4. James T Suel Says:

    I want to see Newgarden in the race this weekend. He has already won more races this year than anyone. I think Ferrucci would be a wise replacement, but Newgarden needs to be in the car. It’s know surprise I happen to think Newgarden is the best of the current drivers.. so I surely hope he gets the chance to drive and win his 3rd championship. Iam real old school, for me at the end of the season you see who had the most wins that is your champ!

  5. The news of Newgarden’s injury was indeed quite the unfortunate headline after Sunday’s race. Here’s wishing him a full and quick recovery. Longtime health is more important than championships. That’s why he needs medical clearance to race again so soon.

    Given the way the driver market plays out right now, it is no surprise that Team Penske has quickly secured the services of the best available possible stand-in driver, which is Ferruci, who on merit alone, should really have a full-season ride.

    You never want to see one fan-favorite replace another. You usually want to see both on the same grid, in the same race, showing their skills whilst racing each other.

    Here’s wishing the driver of the #2 car a good and safe race this weekend,

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