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Penske Quartet Confident about Race Pace while Going for Rare Three-Peat

Regardless of what transpires in Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying, Team Penske’s drivers feel ready for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Aug. 23.

The four drivers have every reason to be confident. Three of them have combined to win five Indianapolis 500s, the other is a two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion who currently holds the season crown. And then there’s this:

Team Penske is aiming for a record-tying third consecutive “500” victory, something that has been accomplished by a team only twice, most recently by Team Penske in 2003. If Josef Newgarden or Helio Castroneves wins this race, the team will have earned that three-peat with three different drivers, a remarkable and unmatched feat.

“I feel confident,” Newgarden said Friday. “We have the team to do it, as you know.”

A Castroneves victory would be his fourth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tying racing legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. This will be his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race in 15 months since he finished 18th in last year’s “500,” but he has looked as strong as ever in practices this week. And don’t forget that his Indy resume includes three second-place finishes and four poles.

“It’s just like riding a bicycle,” said Castroneves, the driver of the No. 3 Pennzoil Chevrolet. “Back to normal; back to speed, as well.”

Team Penske entered this event as the winner of the past two NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, both at Iowa Speedway, the smallest oval track on the schedule. Pagenaud won the first race, Newgarden the second.

Most of the competitors in this 33-car field, including Team Penske, spent Wednesday and Thursday focused on developing the strongest car possible for the long runs that will come during the 200-lap race, and some noticed that Newgarden was the only Team Penske driver to notch one of the fastest laps – he was sixth on Wednesday in the No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro Chevrolet. The fastest Team Penske driver on Thursday was Castroneves in 17th. No one in Penske colors seemed concerned.

Power was the fastest of the Team Penske quartet on “Fast Friday,” when extra turbocharger boost raises speeds and horsepower, when he ended up 11th overall. Newgarden was 17th, Pagenaud 22nd and Castroneves 29th. But the Penske drivers know that Race Day is what matters most.

“A lot of people obviously have been drafting and putting big numbers on the board,” Pagenaud said of the first two practice days. “I’ve been extremely focused on just running in the pack, putting myself in race situation, not really going after lap time. So it does look bad on the chart. For sure 27th (on Thursday) is not where we want to be.”

And here’s what should concern opponents:

“It’s comfortable,” Pagenaud said of the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet. “It’s close to where it was last year.”

Pagenaud led 116 laps in winning last year, the most since Dario Franchitti led 155 laps in winning the 2010 race.

“I think all four of us were able to go on different paths,” Pagenaud said. “Helio did an aero test (Thursday), for example, that is going to be very helpful. So did Will and Josef. At the end of the day we come back and sit together and look at how we could make the whole package better.

“Overall, very happy. I think we’re in very good shape.”

Said Newgarden: “We have the best teammates, best engineers, best owners. I always feel we have a shot. I see no differently this year.”

Saturday practice begins at 8:30 a.m. and Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying at 11 a.m., with action available on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold and the IMS Radio Network. The final two hours of qualifying, beginning at 3 p.m., will air on NBC.

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