Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

IndyCar Paddock Casts Doubts on Penske Explanation for St. Pete Violations

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – And now for the rest of the story.

Ahead of Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, Team Penske has been busy trying to put out the fires after two of their three cars were disqualified for tampering with the Push to Pass system in the season-opening race in St. Petersburg.

But many in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock aren’t buying the explanations that have been put forth for the team’s transgressions.

Across the board from Andretti Global to Chip Ganassi Racing to Arrow McLaren, the thought that a software glitch inadvertently installed on the Penske machines at the start of hybrid testing last fall is the linchpin in this whole ordeal is falling on deaf ears.

Colton Herta, who was one of the drivers to lose a position to one of the Penske cars on a restart as a result of the added Push to Pass was one of the more outspoken on the issue when the series rolled into Barber on Friday.

“The biggest thing is it’s a Penske mess up, right? It’s not the driver’s fault that was in the car, but it is the driver’s fault that they used it and were gonna use it again in Long Beach,” said Herta. “They were all fine with it in Long Beach. Nobody said anything. And I find it hard to believe that anybody would have a hard time feeling 50 extra horsepower in the car. So, any excuse that they have is bullshit.”

Herta added that he and fellow Andretti driver Kyle Kirkwood noticed something was amiss after St. Pete when reviewing a replay of the race, but shrugged it off as being a performance gain somewhere else and not an outright manipulation.

“I said, man, look at this. Like, did Chevy really gain this much in the off season? Looks like he’s on push to pass,” Herta recalled of his conversation with Kirkwood about it. “I get a better exit and he still like closes up to me and you know, you’d have some sort of strip slipstreaming effect, but not really at St. Pete on the front straight. It’s pretty, pretty short. And I sent it to Kyle and he’s like, ‘Dude, it looks like he’s on overtake.’ We were like, ah, no, couldn’t be that.

“It was.”

Herta added that the P2P violation may have simply been a mistake, but with it dating back to the start of hybrid testing in August 2023 and the same software being in place through the season opener and on to Long Beach is not helping to sell the case that it was just a line of code that accidentally slipped through the cracks.

“I don’t think everybody’s a cheater. Maybe this was just a mistake, but it’s hard to think it was a mistake when you keep it in the car and then you should expect to use it again no matter what you say about why it was in the car. And by the way, it was in their hybrid car, which is not one of the race cars. So….

“There’s a lot of unknowns, but you know, obviously now I have complete trust. Like nothing will be happening going forward. They’re gonna be under such a magnifying glass that it’s gonna be hard for them to do anything.

“And it could be an honest mistake. It could be. St. Pete could be. It’s hard to believe that Long Beach is.”

Count newly minted St. Pete winner Pato O’Ward as one of those doubtful of the Penske story of a software glitch being the root cause of their downfall. As the driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet noted, it seems awfully suspicious that it was truly a mistake that got us to this point.

“It’s not an accident. That doesn’t happen by accident,” O’Ward said.

“I’m glad to see IndyCar took a stand and did what’s right and did something about it because, you know, you want to believe that you’re racing against people that are playing within the rules. It’s such a competitive championship. Just the slightest advantage does make a difference…

“I would just say I was very surprised. I really was. And I think I’m one of the ones on the not buying boat because that just doesn’t happen accidentally. There’s so many ways to see it that it’s just not what has been said.”

O’Ward continued, explaining that going in and changing the code to allow the system the ability to be used before they were legally able to would have to have been a decisive act by someone, somewhere. And if it were truly an accident, shouldn’t someone on the vast engineering teams on both the team and manufacturer side have been able to catch it before last weekend in Long Beach.

“At any given moment, that rule wouldn’t have been able to have been broken if it wasn’t really looked into to try and see how to break it. You know? Like that, why did everybody else not have Push to Pass in Long Beach warmup? That doesn’t happen.

“Look at all these screens that we have in engineering trucks, like so many engineers overlooking at what’s going on. You’ve got 10 people looking at what each driver is doing every single lap. Like, you really think something like that is gonna get overlooked?”

“…. That that doesn’t just happen by accident. And if it does, then as soon as you have that, you fix it.

“Something like that will never get kind of missed, you know, unless it’s, it’s really been done for the advantage, which I believe everybody’s on that same boat that believes that is the case because they’ve been in the series for decades. They know the rules.

“I know the rules. I’ve been here for five years and I know the rules. So, yeah. Um, so I’m glad that IndyCar did something about it. And, and you know, I just, I don’t think this is all we’re gonna know about it. I think if there’s a deep dive into past data. I think there’s gonna be some surprises there.”

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon played the more diplomatic approach, explaining that without being in their camp, we wouldn’t truly know what went down, but was appreciative that it came to light and IndyCar officials were able to put a stop to it.

“You are from the other side of the fence, so you don’t really know what went on, how malicious it was,” Dixon said. “You know, you read obviously the claims or hear about it. How much truth to that, you’re not really sure of, but in the sport, unfortunately there’s been situations like this.

“The hard part, right, is I think for them, which is more of the nightmare, is the fact that they own the series. They own one of the engines that’s supplied to the series. That just makes it more of an issue. It’s definitely not a good situation for everybody involved. It’s good that IndyCar stepped up and kind of did what they needed to do because sometimes you don’t hear about those issues.”

But like many of the others in the paddock, the story about the software glitch isn’t sitting well with him either.

“The software thing is fictitious,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what they’re talking about. Nobody had to do that. Every other team has done hybrid testing and nobody ever had to change that code, so it’s a pretty wholly one that one.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.