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Team Penske and Newgarden put IndyCar on notice in St. Pete

Josef Newgarden for Team Penkse during the NTT IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, 2024

The 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season opener did not deliver the action and drama of last year’s Grand Prix of St Petersburg. Nevertheless, it provided enough talking points for the rest of the season.

Josef Newgarden and Team Penske sent a strong message to the rest of the field in St Petersburg in the opening race of the 2024 IndyCar Series. The 2023 Indy 500 champion dominated the race from pole position.

He was untouchable. Neither Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward nor his fellow Penske teammates Power and McLaughlin could catch him. We are used to seeing this level of domination from Newgarden on the oval races however on a street circuit, it raises an interesting question.

If Newgarden/Penske can retain this level of pace and control on the street and road races in addition to his oval pace, what does this mean for Alex Palou?

The defending champion dominated many road/street races last year but wasn’t as strong as Newgarden on the ovals. If Newgarden retains this pace, Palou’s job of defending the championship just got a lot more difficult.

Ganassi/Andretti MIA

Marcus Ericsson for Andretti Autosport during the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Marcus Ericsson for Andretti Autosport during the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Normally in IndyCar street races, Andretti Global and Chip Ganassi Racing are the teams to beat. This year in St Petersburg, that wasn’t the case at all.

In the case of Andretti, they were nowhere to be found. Kyle Kirkwood, who won two street races last year was off the pace and nowhere. Marcus Ericsson ran a little better until his #28 Honda had a power unit or electrical issue and retired. Colton Herta was the only Andretti in the picture and finished in a solid P5.

As for Ganassi, Palou was anonymous until the later stages when he gained some positions to finish P6. Six-time series champion Scott Dixon was also invisible and off the pace for most of the race.

This was the season’s first race, and nothing is set in stone. Regardless, it was crazy to see these two teams so far off the pace compared to Penske.

The children behaved

Josef Newgarden of Team Penkse rolling the field to green during the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Josef Newgarden of Team Penkse rolling the field to green during the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Arguably our biggest takeaway from St Petersburg 2024 was how shockingly well-behaved the drivers were on track. Compared to last year, when we had flying cars, pileups, and drivers trying to murder each other, 2024 was a yoga class.

The only exception was Romain Grosjean, who collided with Chip Ganassi’s Linus Lundqvist and eventually retired. Marcus Armstrong hit the wall and brought out the first caution, but that was his own doing and not the result of contact with another driver.

Besides that, everyone was on their best behavior, even during the restarts. It is crazy to think about when considering races like Laguna Seca last year, where the drivers couldn’t complete a restart without shunting each other.

There is no way that this good behavior is going to repeat itself all season long, but it was a very interesting isolated case.

What’s next?

Since only one race is completed, a definitive prediction for the season ahead is impossible. With IndyCar’s ultra-competitive field, anything can change at any time.

Will Ganassi and Andretti respond to Team Penske’s strong showing? We’ll find out when the green flag drops at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in late April.

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