Team Penske president Tim Cindric has an interesting management project to oversee in Monterey. With two of Penske’s three drivers locked in a fight for the NTT IndyCar Series championship, and Josef Newgarden — the driver he looks after as race strategist — leading the points entering the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca finale, he’s faced with a trio of options during Sunday’s 90-lap contest.
Newgarden, who holds a decent 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, and 42 over teammate Simon Pagenaud, is on a mission to do well and avoid mistakes — his own and those visited upon him by others. Pagenaud, like Rossi, has no choice to do anything other than wage an all-out assault to win. There’s nothing fancy on the strategy side for the Indy 500 winner.
It’s the third member of the Penske squad, Will Power, who isn’t in the championship frame, and could play the role of spoiler if he can win and prevent Rossi from scoring maximum points.
Altogether, Cindric could try and push or pull on those three levers to affect the desired championship outcome; but he isn’t sure that’s the best way to approach the situation.
“I think you can overthink the scenarios,” he said. “For us, first of all, either driver (winning the title) is a victory for us. So the fact that it’s one or the other, I think from our standpoint, it just needs to be one of them.
“I think the way that you approach that is it’s a session-by-session approach in my mind,” Cindric continued. “We start out with testing all day Thursday, and you understand where you are, and you prepare yourself all the way up until Saturday when you qualify. I think after qualifying is really when you sit down and think about the various scenarios, because obviously track position is really important, especially at Laguna Seca.
“There’s very few of these drivers that have actually raced an IndyCar at Laguna Seca, and none of them have raced a modern-day or a current IndyCar as it exists today. So, yeah, especially the fact that it’s the first time we’ve been here, I think it’s an open door; and I think there’s a lot of drivers out there that have other things at stake besides the championship. There’s a rookie of the year battle going on. There’s pride amongst all the drivers. Some of them are trying to acquire their first win; some of them are trying to be sure they finish the season off in the right way.
“It’s well beyond the championship as far as what is happening within the paddock. So, I think it’s a session-by-session discussion as far as what’s realistic and how do you approach it. But in IndyCar racing, anything can happen.”
With Rossi forced to race for the win to unseat Penske’s title contenders, Cindric wouldn’t mind if Power’s No. 12 Chevy finds its way to victory lane.
“I think in other years it might be a little different, but going into the scenario that exists now, we’re two hands in the air for Will sitting on the pole and winning the race because anything that he can do to really take points away from Rossi is a success for us as a team,” he said.
“So I think his teammates are really his biggest fans right now. Should he win the race, it makes our scenario, I guess, a bit easier if you want to call it that; but opens up a few more scenarios. That said, I think probably Simon’s probably not sitting there paying (Power’s dinner) tab because he’s in a different boat than Josef is relative to Will’s fate this weekend. But as a team, our chances get better the higher he finishes.”