Team Penske Struggles to Steer Race-Car Scandal

Thom Weidlich 05.09.24


Roger Penske, the 87-year-old owner of Team Penske, is struggling to stave off the damage from a cheating scandal rocking the car-racing world. On Tuesday this week, after an internal probe, Penske suspended two senior leaders and two engineers, and strove to communicate the team’s position.

The scandal centers on Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden’s use of so-called push-to-pass software in a March 10 race he won in St. Petersburg, Florida. Push-to-pass, which gives a horsepower boost, is not allowed to be used on starts and restarts. The sanctioning body IndyCar didn’t discover it on the three Team Penske cars until April 21.

IndyCar then took away the March win from Newgarden and the third-place finish of teammate Scott McLaughlin. It penalized a third teammate, Will Power, 10 points and fined all three $25,000. The situation is unusual: It’s the first IndyCar disqualification in 29 years.

Indianapolis 500

Now this week, after the probe by his general counsel, Roger Penske (pictured) suspended the president, the team managing director and the two engineers for two races — including the Indianapolis 500. (Team Penske has won the Indy 500, called “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” a record 19 times, and Penske Corp. owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where it’s held.)

On Tuesday morning, Team Penske put out a statement about the suspensions, noting “significant failures in our processes and internal communications.” It quoted Penske himself: “I recognize the magnitude of what occurred and the impact it continues to have on the sport to which I’ve dedicated so many decades. Everyone at Team Penske along with our fans and business partners should know that I apologize for the errors that were made and I deeply regret them.”

Penske also did an interview Tuesday with the AP, which has been all over this story. He said the probe found “no malicious intent by anyone.” The team had been testing the software on starts and restarts and inadvertently neglected to return it to legal form for the March race, he said. Newgarden has said he used it three times because he thought the rule had been changed. McLaughlin has said he used it once out of habit. Power didn’t use it.

‘Not Believable’

The coverage makes clear that a lot of people, including other team owners and drivers, aren’t buying the explanations. “It’s simply not believable that one of three cars owned by series leadership thought a major rule had been changed without any public announcement,” the AP’s Jenna Fryer wrote.

A major part of the story is that Penske, a former racer and a motorsports giant, has a sterling reputation. Now that reputation is under threat. It’s a reminder that one misstep can imperil an otherwise golden name.

Fryer penned an analysis headlined “IndyCar Cheating Scandal Risks Sullying Roger Penske’s Perfect Image.” Just to show how damaging a reputational crisis can be, despite Penske’s stature, Fryer managed to dig up a previous scandal he was involved in — in 1967!

“This is an unfortunate situation and when you’re the leader, you have to take action,” Penske said in his AP interview.

We couldn’t have said it better.

Photo Credit: Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock

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