Did Penske screw up an obvious title by avoiding controversy?

Team orders are dirty business in motorsport, even more so when the discussion involves changing the race leader.

It seems that even the mere suggestion of trading race winners would draw a stern face from Roger Penske, but did his IndyCar team miss a golden opportunity in Portland?

The race ended with Scott McLaughlin leading all but four laps, also taking pole position to bring home a maximum total of 54. Still, he is 44 points behind in the championship, meaning if Will Power finishes 16th , that’s without taking bonus points into account. McLaughlin will be eliminated from contention at Laguna Seca.

Will Power Grand Prix of Portland by James Black Large Image Without Watermark M69969

When asked how Penske would handle McLaughlin fighting for the win next week alongside him, Power responded: “I think he’s definitely in a position where he’s going to have to help, just. I don’t think there is any doubt about it.”

Asked if that would be hard to swallow, McLaughlin said: “Not really. Everyone knew that I would have been the real winner, so…”

If that’s the case and McLaughlin is a “team player,” as he puts it, why didn’t Penske switch cars on Sunday?

Scott Dixon’s opportunistic restart towards the end of the Portland race meant he jumped from sixth to third, and that means to guarantee the title, Power needs to finish third or better this weekend.

If McLaughlin and Power had switched, Power could win the title by finishing ninth with three of the four bonus points, eighth with one bonus point, or seventh with no bonus points.

I understand the furor the driver swap would have caused, and the fact that victory keeps McLaughlin in mathematical contention.

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But by not changing them, Penske has given a better chance to rival Dixon, who won titles long before (remember 2015, anyone?) and tested at Laguna Seca last week, unlike the Penske team, which was to Portland. and reaped the benefits.

However, McLaughlin said afterward that the idea of ​​trading did not come to him during the race.

Scott Mclaughlin and Will Power Portland Grand Prix by Joe Skibinski Large Image w/o Watermark M69828

“It’s pretty obvious what position you’re in if you need to give up,” he said. “I told Will before the race that I would fight him fair, and I think that’s all I expected.

“I didn’t know he was asking for team orders, a change or whatever, but I can’t control that. I just ran my race, and I’m a team player. I’ll do whatever it takes, but I think the best we could do was win the race, either car.

“That is exactly what happened.”

There were other failures in the car exchange.

The Penske field is so harmonious right now and I wouldn’t want to upset that, even if McLaughlin says he would have been fine with moving aside. McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden are the tightest duo in the paddock, and Power’s refined mental focus has turned him from a hot-headed meme-generator into something of a Zen master.

There’s also the fact that the move would have left five-time 2022 winner Newgarden further behind as well. Overall, trading the top two would have increased the odds for McLaughlin. Y Newgarden to give to Power. That is a high price to pay.

Perhaps it wasn’t worth the risk of not swapping cars to keep that harmony intact, giving McLaughlin the experience of being in contention in an IndyCar title decider, without further hampering Newgarden and avoiding massive controversies. After all, controversy isn’t a word often associated with Team Penske.

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Scott Dixon Portland Grand Prix by Joe Skibinski Large Image w/o Watermark M69874

But if we fast-forward to next Sunday and there’s confetti reigning over Dixon as a seven-time IndyCar champion, Penske might well wonder if the trade was the right thing to do after all.

If I know the hierarchy at Penske, taking a win from one driver to give to another would be unacceptable under any circumstances and that’s why it didn’t happen. It’s not in Penske’s DNA.

Power didn’t deserve to win the race and if that’s what decides the season, it was a fair result for everyone. Penske will just have to hope that the fair result isn’t another title for Ganassi, who has won the last two and this year’s Indy 500 for extra pizzazz.

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