PRUETT: Three are Penske’s magic numbers

Andretti had it and lost it. Ganassi had it and lost it. Penske grabbed it and never let go.

After Josef Newgarden rode with authority on Sunday at the Acura Grand Prix in Long Beach and gave his boss three wins in a row to open the season, it’s time to give full credit to captain and team president Tim Cindric for an offseason move that pays off in massive ways.

Together, they got tired of watching Chip Ganassi Racing run away with championships against each other, and therefore were urged to tighten the screws, call the team back from four cars to three and through St. Petersburg, Texas, and Long Beach, the positive effects of the downsizing have become the story of the early season to date. By taking on less managing, they have revived the cold efficiency that was lacking over the last two seasons. More on that in a moment.

It was Andretti Autosport’s day to break free from his ongoing pitlane dramas as Colton Herta led up to the first round of pitstops. And then it all went wrong with a slow stop that brought him to third place when Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou took the lead with Newgarden in tow.

Later, an unforced error from Herta ended his day against the same wall that his rookie teammate Devlin DeFrancesco struck. To make matters worse, the Andretti team’s problems were exacerbated as a slow stop diminished Alexander Rossi’s chances of a top five. If it were not for a strong drive by Romain Grosjean for second place, Michael Andretti would be looking for an exorcist.

And then things went wrong for Palou, whose last pit stop was not as sharp as desired. The lack of execution brought Newgarden to the forefront. We also need to give the two-time champion some extra credit for delivering epic in- and out-laps to take advantage of the mistakes rival teams have made. Then he withstood all the pressure Grosjean could muster, proving once again that when he has a chance to win, he rarely misses.

Factor in the amazing pit-stops that their crews have delivered this season to go with Scott McLaughlin’s victory at St. Louis. Pete, Newgarden’s pair of wins, and Will Power’s row of three top five to open the season – something he has not done since winning the championship in 2014 – and the IndyCar field has a growing Penske problem on hand.

Josef Newgarden took over Scott McLaughlin for his first – and Penske’s second – win of the season in Texas (Photo by Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images)

Cindric has long been a vocal advocate for driving three cars instead of four, and so far the decision has completely changed the team’s fortunes and bent the early stages of the IndyCar season to their liking.

“I think there’s something about it,” Newgarden told RACER. “I feel that could be the case. And we’ve compressed everything, we’ve narrowed the focus on what we need to be, and really look at how we can control the whole group.

“It’s a little easier to get your arms around [it when] it’s three against four. So I think there is a positive effect in the short term that we see going from four to three. “

In a team that prides itself on operational expertise and flawless execution, it would never be accepted to have been a bit off in recent years. And for what it’s worth, Newgarden was not critical of former teammate Simon Pagenaud or hinted that members of the former Chevy participation No. 22 pulled the team down.

The improvement we are witnessing is a result of the Penske organization returning to the place where it is most comfortable; growth is not the right answer for all teams.

“We have clearly achieved a gain by just being able to be more concise and put more effort into it all and get our arms around it. So it’s definitely happening, ”Newgarden said. “The great thing about Team Penske right now is that I felt like we were super strong last year, but it was more on the 2-car, and we needed to lift the whole program, and we did.”

Upcoming trips to Barber Motorsports Park and Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be ugly for the rest of the IndyCar fold if Newgarden, McLaughlin and Power – who are in first, second and fourth place – remain locked in their current groove.

With an undefeated Penske team on the way and the month of May on the horizon, the team’s less is more ‘approach has proven to be the winning formula.

“We have taken a big step across the board,” Newgarden added. “I feel like everyone is shooting on all cylinders and that is only good for the whole organization. When the whole organization is up, we are all lifted. I really feel that effect at the moment. ”

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