Josef Newgarden, Team Penske and the Push to Pass Scandal: What IndyCar Fans Should Know 

ATRL’s Natasha Warcholak-Switzer tells you everything you need to know about Team Penske’s recent Push to Pass violation, with perspectives from around the paddock.

Written by Natasha Warcholak-Switzer

May 2, 2024

If you follow IndyCar, you’ve likely heard about the situation that’s circling the paddock and the group chats of fellow Indy fans – Team Penske’s Push to Pass violation at the season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida

 

Josef Newgarden, the 2023 Indy 500 winner came in fifth place overall last season, and expectations were high for continued success in the 2024 season. As the opening race, St. Pete sets the tone for the whole season, often establishing early front runners and displaying the efforts teams have made to improve in the off season. Even though the race weekend went off without a hitch, things would be vastly different by the time the grid lined up for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. 

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden celebrating his Indy 500 win in 2023. (Source: Indy Star)

Penske’s Newgarden and teammate Scott McLaughlin were found to be in violation of the series’ Push to Pass regulations. In a press release on April 24, the IndyCar series notes the team violated the following rules in St. Pete: 

  • Rule 14.19.15. An indicator to enable Push to Pass will be sent via CAN communication from the timing and scoring beacon on board the Car to the team data logger. This signal must be passed on to the ECU unmodified and uninterrupted during all Road and Street Course Events.
  • Rule 14.19.16. Race Starts and any Race Restart that occurs before the lap prior to the white flag or prior to three minutes remaining in a timed Race Event will have the Push to Pass system disabled and will be enabled for a given Car once that Car reaches the alternate Start/Finish line.

One of the above rules states that teams cannot use Push to Pass – a temporary boost in speed that gives drivers an additional 50 horsepower – on starts and restarts. In motorsport, restarts are a critical time for team strategy and driver outcomes, and an overtake after a restart can potentially decide the result of the race. In IndyCar, drivers are not permitted to use Push to Pass during these moments, and the Team Penske violation concerns the team’s ability to bypass the software restriction that holds this policy in place. The series discovered a possible issue as cars were warming up at Long Beach, and announced the violations before the third race of the season, the Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park.

“The integrity of the IndyCar Series championship is critical to everything we do,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said in a statement. “While the violation went undetected at St. Petersburg, IndyCar discovered the manipulation during Sunday’s warmup in Long Beach and immediately addressed it ensuring all cars were compliant for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Beginning with this week’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, new technical inspection procedures will be in place to deter this violation.”

Newgarden, the winner of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, and Scott McLaughlin, the third place driver, were each removed from the podium, losing the points associated with their places, and were fined $25,000, making Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward the race winner. Fellow teammate Will Power was fined as well with a penalty of 10 points but did not lose his position, as IndyCar determined he did not use the Push to Pass function to gain an advantage. 

Team Penske celebrates Scott McLaughlin’s win at Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix. (Photo via Indy Star)

 

What Team Penske Said

In a presser after the announcement, Newgarden explains his understanding of the Push to Pass rule in regard to the team’s violation: “You can call me anything you want…but I’m not a liar”. He states that the team’s ability to use Push to Pass beyond what the regulations allowed was introduced at the Thermal Exhibition Race, which included a two-day Open Testing period. “It’s the only time in my time in IndyCar where we’ve actually had a legitimate legal change of the Push to Pass system where it’s going to be operable at a time other than at the alternate start-finish line”. 

The Penske driver goes on to say that the team was convinced that the policy had changed permanently to include Push to Pass being allowed immediately after any restart. “The first time any of us hear about this software issue or mistake is at warmup [for Long Beach].” Despite this statement from Newgarden, McLaughlin has a different point of view. “There was no discussion between the team on that,” referring to the policy change in an interview with NBC Sports

Team Penske president Tim Cindric responded to the violation, stating “Unfortunately, the push-to-pass software was not removed as it should have been, following recently completed hybrid testing in the Team Penske Indy cars. This software allowed for push-to-pass to be deployed during restarts at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix race, when it should not have been permitted….Team Penske accepts the penalties applied by IndyCar”. 

What the Paddock Said

As of the time of publishing, neither Team Penske nor Newgarden have updated their statements or provided new information. Whether the violation was a mistake or not is up to interpretation, but when the paddock was interviewed about the situation, they didn’t mince words. 

Alex Palou, who drives the No.10 car for Chip Ganassi Racing, challenged Newgarden on the rule change for Thermal. “It was pretty clear to my understanding that the rules were only for Thermal. From my side there was no confusion”.

Scott Dixon, six-time series champion, was also shocked at the violation. “It’s not a good look. It’s definitely a tough situation for Penske, when they own the series…and you get caught on something like this,” Dixon said. 

 

And finally, Colton Herta expressed his frustrations as a competitor, “It’s up to everyone to interpret what’s real and what’s not. But for me, it’s disappointing to have to go up against someone with 50 extra horsepower.” 

 

The violation’s continued impacts to the 2024 season remain unknown, but fans and teams might be watching each other a little bit more closely after this one. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Before 2020, Natasha didn’t know what F1 was. In 2022, the highlight of her week is watching the Grand Prix on Sunday with her entire family. Natasha’s favorite teams are Ferrari and McLaren; when she’s not watching F1 or IndyCar, she’s traveling, taking language classes, trying out a new local cafe, or learning about the latest in marketing and social media. 

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