INDIANAPOLIS — Roger Penske has had worse days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There was 1995, when his cars famously failed to qualify. And 1992 when Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi, winners of three of the previous four races, were involved in the same early crash.
But Sunday might rank right up there, given the high — and historic — expectations Team Penske had coming into the 94th Indianapolis 500.
Helio Castroneves was gunning for his fourth 500 win, which would have tied him with Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. for the most all-time. No one doubted he could do it, especially in a car that blistered the field May 22 in pole qualifying.
But Sunday, a stall on a mid-race pit stop cost Castroneves precious seconds, which he could ill afford given the dominant car of eventual winner Dario Franchitti from Penske's rival, Chip Ganassi Racing. Castroneves was fortunate to get up to ninth, through pit strategy.
Will Power, who started next to Castroneves on Row 1, bettered him by one spot but his day was marred by an uncharacteristic mishap in the pits. On a Lap 37 stop he left with part of the fuel hose attached, and was black-flagged for a penalty.
At least those two cars left in one piece. Ryan Briscoe, who qualified fourth, crashed hard on cold tires coming out of Turn 4 of Lap 148 and ended 24th.
"As a team, we made too many mistakes," said Power, who was referring to his No. 12 car but could have summed up Team Penske overall.
FLAG DAY: Three drivers were black-flagged for blocking, serving drive-through penalties as Indy Racing League officials appeared determined to crack down on rough driving.
St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, who finished second, watched two drivers get caught for blocking his Panther Racing No. 4 car: John Andretti and Graham Rahal.
Andretti crashed out soon after his penalty. Rahal finished 12th, an effort his father, team owner and 1986 champion Bobby Rahal, felt could have been higher without what he called a "bogus penalty."
Wheldon found the call to be justified.
"He put me on the grass at over 220 mph, he totally deserved that penalty," Wheldon said. "If you want to block somebody intentionally, you can very much do that, but it gets incredibly dangerous. That's no laughing joke. Here in my first year I did the same and got punished for it, and I'd like to think I'm one of the cleaner guys out here and learned from that."
On Lap 159, Townsend Bell was penalized for blocking Ryan Hunter-Reay, though Hunter-Reay completed the pass.
"I guess I'm confused," Bell said.
JACK'S JOB: Hollywood icon Jack Nicholson, clad in a blue T-shirt and Los Angeles Lakers hat, enjoyed a full IMS experience. He kissed the yard of bricks at the start/finish line, then rode a mechanical lift to the flag stand to wave the green flag. The 73-year-old worked overtime in his honorary starter role, waving the green to start the race and again after two early cautions.