Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Penske Looks to Pick Up the Pieces After St. Pete Disqualifications

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Team Penske apology tour has begun.

Still sifting through the ashes of the disqualifications, points and monetary fines levied by INDYCAR earlier this week for tampering with its Push to Pass system in St. Petersburg, the organization comes into race weekend in Alabama having to fight a war on two fronts.

Before the cars ever turn a lap for the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, the team will have to find a way to navigate through the noise of not only having to answer for their transgressions, but also find a way to focus on the task at hand on the winding 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course.

First up to face the music was Josef Newgarden, who was stripped of his win in the season opener after Team Penske felt the heavy hand of the sanctioning body and fell to 11th in points from the points lead.

Unlike his teammates that elected to put out statements on social media to display their stance on the penalties, the two-time champion and defending Indy 500 winner chose to sit down in front of the gathered media at Barber on Friday morning to answer for the actions of himself as a driver and the entire No. 2 team.

Tearing up at times, Newgarden did not shy away from owning up to the fact that his team was in violation of the rules at St. Petersburg and apologized profusely for the incident and the wide-reaching effects it has had since the penalty news dropped.

“There’s no doubt that we were in breach of the rules at St. Petersburg,” Newgarden said. “I used push to pass at an unauthorized time twice, on two different restarts. There’s really nothing else to it other than that. Those are the rules, and we did not adhere to them.

“For me, what’s really important about that, too, is there’s only one person sitting in the car. It’s just me. So that responsibility and the use of the push to pass in the correct manner falls completely on me. It’s my responsibility to know the rules and regulations at all points and make sure I get that right. With that regard, I failed my team miserably. A complete failure on my side to get that right.

“It’s my job as the leader of the 2 car to not make mistakes like that. You cannot make a mistake at this level in that situation. There’s no room for it. There’s no room for that type of mistake anywhere, certainly not at the top level of motorsports. I don’t want to hide from that.

“For me, it’s an embarrassing situation to have to go through, to see what’s transpired. It’s demoralizing in a lot of ways. There’s nothing that I can say that changes the fact of what happened. I mean, it’s pretty clear.”

He added that the penalty levied by INDYCAR was just and in his words, while the team did not knowingly commit the infractions that landed them in hot water with the sanctioning body, the hammer being dropped on them for doing so was expected and appreciated.

“The series has to hold everybody accountable regardless of the circumstance, regardless of the intent. They’ve done the right thing by trying to throw the book at us, and they should,” Newgarden said.

“It just doesn’t matter what the intent was. If you broke a rule, you broke a rule, and you should suffer the consequences. The series has to uphold that standard.

“It makes me proud that I’m part of a series that does that. That’s a series I want to be a part of. I think the penalty is fair.

“It’s crushing. I’m going to look back on it, too, and say I don’t want that win on my books either. I don’t want it. I’m glad they’re taking it away. If it was tainted, I don’t want to be near it. Unfortunately, it is. I can’t reverse that in time.”

Newgarden continued, explaining that it was a perfect storm of events that led to their manipulation being uncovered last weekend in Long Beach.

He noted that for some reason, he and the team were under the assumption that a rule change had been made prior to the 2024 season to allow Push to Pass to be available immediately on starts and restarts, which he held to be the truth until the penalties came down this week.

While some may not believe his explanation regarding the team’s beliefs of a rule change along with the software issues that helped cement those beliefs in their minds, Newgarden remained steadfast that was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“I didn’t know I did anything wrong until Monday after Long Beach. It’s the first time I heard that I broke rules.

“I knew if getting to this part was going to be difficult for me, you guys can call me every name in the book, you can call me incompetent, call me an idiot, call me an asshole, call me stupid, whatever you want to call me, but I’m not a liar.

“The story that I know, which is the truth, is almost too convenient to be believable…. No, I didn’t leave St. Pete thinking we pulled something over on somebody. I didn’t know that we did something wrong until this week.

“Then I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that, how do you explain a situation to people? I know what happened. I know why it happened. I don’t think it’s very believable, even when I try to tell the story back. I don’t think any of us believe it will be believable to somebody. But it’s the truth.”

McLaughlin’s Mission

While Newgarden may be playing catch-up from just outside of the top-10 in points after the penalties handed down by INDYCAR, his teammate Scott McLaughlin has to start over nearly from scratch, having only accumulated five points over the first two points races of the season – almost as if he had never turned a lap at all in 2024.

While his points position may cause concern, sitting 29th in the standings after his St. Pete finish was wiped off the board and his issues last weekend in Long Beach, McLaughlin was defiant that he and the team would be able to get back on track this weekend in Alabama and could still contend for the championship this year.

McLaughlin enters the weekend as the defending champion of this race and if he is to get back in the fight, he’ll have no more mulligans from here on out.

“Is that all it is?” McLaughlin said of his points predicament with a laugh. “I can still win the championship and that’s my focus moving forward. I have no doubt we can win this race this weekend. I have no doubt that Team Chevy is gonna give me the best engines possible and best fuel mileage. And we’ll just keep working hard together as a team. I’m excited for the challenge.”

Given all of the noise surrounding Team Penske as a whole, how can McLaughlin and the Thirsty 3’s tune it out to focus on the race? Sometimes climbing behind the wheel is the best medicine.

“The best part for me is getting back in a race car and driving that thing as fast as I can. So, I’m very excited to get back in that car.”

McLaughlin elected to put out a statement on social media after the penalties were announced explaining his side of the story, and expounded on that Friday morning.

He added that while he doesn’t recall hitting the P2P button before it should have legally been available, the data shows that he did so and as a result, he agreed that a penalty from INDYCAR was warranted.

“I put out a statement that I know it was truthful,” McLaughlin said. “The data supports what I learned about this whole thing on Tuesday after Long Beach. I don’t have any recollection of actually touching the button, but the data, it’s black and white. I did touch it. I accept the penalty, I move on. That’s all I can do….

“It is what it is now. That stuff is behind us. We have to focus forward. And it comes from my side. I’m the QB for the team. I’ve gotta lead them, lead them through it, and I can’t wait to do that.”

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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.