INTERVIEW: Roger Penske addresses the push-to-pass scandal

Penske Entertainment owner Roger Penske, who also owns the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the three-car Team Penske IndyCar program, spoke with RACER on Tuesday morning to address the push-to-pass scandal that has cast a shadow on his company, series, and team since the matter surfaced on April 24 following the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Josef Newgarden with the No. 2 Penske Chevy and Scott Mclaughlin with the No. 3 Penske Chevy were disqualified from the win (Newgarden) and third-place (McLaughlin) at St. Petersburg on March 10, lost their points, and the team was fined after its cars were caught running in illegal configuration — including at Long Beach across April 22-24 – for the first two months of the season.

On Tuesday, Roger Penske announced he levied internal suspensions for four members of Team Penske, including its president Tim Cindric, who also acts at the leader and race strategist for Newgarden’s No. 2 car, plus Newgarden’s race engineer Luke Mason, managing director Ron Ruzewski, and assistant engineer Robbie Atkinson.


MARSHALL PRUETT: The main question I’ve been asked by a lot of folks is, why wasn’t Josef Newgarden suspended, since his race engineer and his strategist were suspended?

ROGER PENSKE: Number one, the penalties of suspension by the league and the race taken away from him, along with the fine and the points, we felt was the penalty that he had to take. And we understood that, and he’s agreed and understand that was the action that would be regarding his situation.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Knowing that the No. 2 car and the No. 3 car were disqualified from St. Petersburg, why were no members of the 3 car included in your suspension?

ROGER PENSKE: We took several days to review the situation. In fact, our General Counsel did an internal investigation on-site with people that would be involved in this process. And it was determined that the software was installed eight months ago. It was a process failure from the standpoint of the team, and a communication failure from the standpoint of what the drivers understood.

And at this point, we felt that it was obvious that Newgarden didn’t understand what the rules were, and he has taken the penalty. And we felt that the situation on the 3 car was different, because there was no understanding by the engineer, or the driver, of the situation other than it was pushed at one time and never used again.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Why was the route of suspensions rather than terminations taken?

ROGER PENSKE: If you look at situations across motorsports, not in 2024, but anytime, we looked at the situation and determined that the drivers’ penalties were given out by the sanctioning body. We did a thorough investigation and there was no malicious intent by anyone from the standpoint of what took place. It was a process issue, and a communication issue within the team. Tim Cindric and Ron Ruzewski, because of their management roles within the company, felt that they were not going to put two people out on an island and take this situation under their responsibility.

They felt that they should step up and be part of the part of the issue. And with that, I made the decision that it would be a suspension for the month of May. And obviously, it’s the biggest race that we have in the series every year, so it was a significant penalty for everyone involved.

Penske says that suspensions, rather than terminations, for those with culpability is in line with historical precedents. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

MARSHALL PRUETT: Have you decided who will replace Tim on the timing stand as race strategist, and who will replace Luke as engineer?

ROGER PENSKE: We have a number of people that we’ve talked about, but when I left Charlotte last night, we had not come to a conclusion, because we were more dealing with a subject of how we were going to announce this and dealing with it. We have a very good deep bench and we’ll be utilizing people that we have within the organization that have IndyCar expertise, and domain knowledge as far as racing and strategy.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Why didn’t Penske Entertainment, or in theory, Team Penske, pull its cars after morning warm up at Long Beach? Why weren’t the three cars having been found to be running illegally three hours prior to the race removed from the event?

ROGER PENSKE: I think that’s a question you need to ask IndyCar. I was not there. I was in Europe. So I had no knowledge of it until Monday when I was coming back from the UK.

MARSHALL PRUETT: But there were other senior leaders from Team Penske there. I’m looking at this from a wide perspective here of maintaining integrity and reputation, and this seemed like an option that could have been taken at the highest level from the company that owns IndyCar [Penske Entertainment].

ROGER PENSKE: That could be your assumption. But as far as I’m concerned, I was not there. And I don’t think that anyone felt that way at IndyCar. I think you should ask them. As far as the team is concerned, we had no reason to not run the race unless we were told not to. And I don’t think that at this particular time, the action that was taken was taken based on what happened at St. Pete. There was no infraction from the standpoint of racing that I understood at Laguna Seca [ED: Long Beach], because the situation became apparent, and the officials and the team members talked about what had happened. And that’s all I know.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Why didn’t Penske Entertainment inform the paddock, its fans, even the media of its cars being caught running in illegal configuration in the three hours between the warmup and the race?

ROGER PENSKE: I think that there’s lots of questions maybe that aren’t answered. But I would say to you that if the series, who’s taken action on Wednesday, thought that those cars should be withdrawn, it would have been up to them. I don’t think Penske Entertainment is in the process of determining what particular cars are in or out of the race based on any infraction at this point.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Knowing that your team is very different than the other nine full-time teams in the series, why didn’t Penske Entertainment hire a law firm to perform an independent investigation of this matter to isolate IndyCar and its technical inspectors from having to become detectives with the cars owned by the series’ owner, and effectively investigate their boss?

I would not think IndyCar and its technical inspectors would be asked to investigate their boss and the cars owned by their boss due to a conflict of interest to remove any question of a conflict of interest.

ROGER PENSKE: That’s your opinion. What took place is, once the information was known, IndyCar – I was not involved at all, no conversation – made the decision about the disqualification. And that’s the job that the series does.

We [Team Penske] did an internal investigation of the entire situation, with our chief legal counsel who interviewed the people who were involved, and as you know, the software was installed in the car eight months ago and there was no malicious intent by anyone based on our investigation, and the outcome and the actions we took, I think, were appropriate.

According to Penske, it fell to IndyCar to determine whether the Team Penske cars should be allowed to continue their participation in the Long Beach weekend once the infraction was discovered. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

MARSHALL PRUETT: Circling back, independent of Team Penske, I would have thought that in the unexpected circumstance where Team Penske cars were found to be running illegally, an external investigation team would be tasked with that investigation by Penske Entertainment.

ROGER PENSKE: Why would Penske have to have an outside investigator to look at our situation? I mean, we have run races for many, many years, and I guess we’re the only team that’s ever had an issue from the standpoint of any disqualification, or from the standpoint of inspection and after racing?

We’ve built a reputation on doing the thing the right way. And I’m sorry that some of your constituents – and maybe you, too, feel differently – but to have an outside investigation on our situation, I don’t think is necessary.

Remember, I have not been on a pit stand during any race since we took over the series. I’ve never been in Race Control once during that period of time. So I have kept myself completely out of that, and understand what my situation is. And if people don’t think that it’s right for me to own the team, and have interest in Indianapolis Speedway and the series, I disagree.


ROGER PENSKE: I brought a lot to all of those particular areas of the sport. And I’m doing everything I can, personally, our team has, from our energy and what we’re doing – and also we backed it up with a significant amount of capital – to make things where they are. We’re going to have the biggest race this year at the Indianapolis 500 than we’ve ever had, maybe other than 2016. But I can tell you today, we got 17,000 more seats sold as of this morning than we did a year ago.

MARSHALL PRUETT: That’s great news. Right after the penalties were announced, I asked [Penske Entertainment CEO] Mark Miles, ‘Why did we hear from seemingly everybody but [Roger Penske] when this happened?’ There’s obviously nobody higher in the organization that bears your name. I am obviously, and I think others are, very pleased to hear from you today.

But I’m also mindful of the fact that this infraction took place 17 days ago at Long Beach. I would have thought you would have been the person speaking first to calm the waters – within the series, among fans, and so on. I’m thankful you’re speaking today, but I do wonder why it’s taken more than two weeks?

ROGER PENSKE: Number one, it was three days after the Long Beach event when I got back to the United States, I was out. And I can tell you this, I was not going to make a statement. I wasn’t at the track. And I had to go through this process in a way that I felt that we had a fair and equitable approach to what had taken place. And that took the number of days until now, when we announced the situation accordingly.

Now, someone could say I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t ready to say anything because I didn’t have all the facts. And I can tell you the facts proved that the software went in eight months ago; the process failed because we didn’t take it out. And there was a communication gap within the team on what was what we were able to use or not use. And based on that, we’ve taken action with our people and the leadership. Tim and Ron have also said it’s our responsibility for this. And we’re also our responsibility to be sure that this doesn’t happen again. So that’s that’s my comment. I certainly was not hiding.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Fair enough. I appreciate that. Two final questions going forward. Are there any changes to any practices or policies in handling of things among all that’s happened, be it Penske Entertainment, Team Penske, or IndyCars as a series, coming out of this? Are there any things anything or things you have seen or learned that could be done differently or better moving forward if such a thing were to happen again?

ROGER PENSKE: Penske Entertainment is a holding company for the series and also for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It does not have any ownership or any part of Team Penske. This was a Team Penske issue. Not a Penske Entertainment issue. But I can assure you that IndyCar, and I’ve not talked to IndyCar, but I’m sure they’re looking at their capability to understand how this software situation wasn’t found previously.

And I assure you, based on my conversations with Tim, and with Ron and the team yesterday, that we’re going to do everything we can to be sure that we don’t have this process or communication issue happen again. But it’s not a Penske Entertainment situation. It’s Team Penske that had this issue.

MARSHALL PRUETT: Last item for you. Team Penske was caught running illegally at Watkins Glen last year and lost the win and was disqualified in IMSA in June of 2023. There was the Joey Logano glove [NASCAR] incident at Atlanta in February. And now the [IndyCars] were found to be running illegally in March at St. Petersburg, and again at Long Beach in April.

All three of your major North American teams had been found to be running out of compliance. Are these individual instances that are unrelated? Is this a cultural issue of inspection that needs to be improved? Unfortunately, what’s just happened in IndyCar is not a fully isolated incident if you look back at the last 10 or 11 months.

ROGER PENSKE: Number one, you’re technically very savvy. And our skid [plate] in Watkins Glen was 0.015 light, and the car ran over curbs. And there could be a judgment by people that said the car did not pass inspection after the race. Again, no intent. And that was the fact. So to take that and pull that into this situation completely, I think, is not realistic.

As far as the glove is concerned, Joey had a glove that was deemed not the right glove. NASCAR has a penalty system concerning many different penalties which happen from time to time within NASCAR. And he was he was made to make a drive-through and also a financial penalty. None of these things relate to what happened today.

And I can tell you that, as far as I’m concerned, to drag the [IMSA] skid and the Joey Logano thing in and just say that we have some process inside our company that this is something that’s systemic is absolutely wrong.

Story originally appeared on Racer