Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Season that began in St. Pete ends with optimism for 2017

It was the year of Roger Penske in IndyCar. No team came close to stopping Team Penske's march to the top of the standings.

When the checkered flag fell Sunday on the 2016 season, Penske drivers celebrated with their 10th victory of the year and a 1-2-3 finish in the final IndyCar standings. The last time a team swept the season standings was in 1994 by another Penske group: Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy.

This trio of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves couldn't be touched this season as the entire organization was determined to forget its failure a year ago while giving the boss the gift of an IndyCar championship in the 50th anniversary season of Team Penske.

"The numbers look great, for sure. It's very satisfying," said Pagenaud, who won his first championship in his sophomore season driving for Penske. "It's certainly a big year for us. Fifty-year anniversary, win for the team, winning myself, my name is always going to be there. It's great to be the little thing I am in such a big team with such history."

The dominance shown by the organization this year comes amid signs of promise for IndyCar's future.

Although the series continues to be dwarfed by NASCAR in television ratings, its viewership increased this season on NBC Sports Network. The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 was sold out, and the series celebrated a new American winner that day in rookie Alexander Rossi.

Rossi didn't put together a magical season after his surprising 15 minutes of fame, and right up until he ran out of gas in the last corner of Sunday's season finale, he's been a mixed bag.

"It's weird how this sport works — we won the biggest race of the year the same way (on fuel)," Rossi said. "It's just the way it goes sometime. It's easier to look back at things that could have been different, but that's racing and I hope to show what I'm capable of in the future."

What his future holds, nobody knows.

Rossi could try to return to Formula One, where he's still seeking a role beyond reserve driver, or return to IndyCar. He entered the series in a partnership between Bryan Herta and Andretti Autosport, but was suddenly mentioned at Sonoma as a potential candidate to drive for Penske.

Penske has yet to commit to four cars next season, which puts Juan Pablo Montoya in a state of limbo. Montoya, who opened the season with a win in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, said he doesn't expect Penske to bring him back. Penske said planning is still ongoing and he'd like to have his lineup set in the next 60 days.

Many think Josef Newgarden, another budding American star, will be Montoya's replacement. The only thing that is certain, though, is that Newgarden will likely be the first domino to fall in what could be a frenzied offseason free agency that leads to new jobs for Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Newgarden and others.

Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi has yet to announce a replacement sponsor for Target, which is leaving IndyCar after 27 seasons. Target's departure leaves four-time series champion Scott Dixon without a sponsor, but Ganassi has shown no signs of worry.

While the loss of Target could be seen as a blow to IndyCar's place in the sports marketing world, the series was bolstered this weekend by DHL Express renewing its sponsorship of Ryan Hunter-Reay through 2020 and Menards returning to the series in a significant sponsorship role with Pagenaud next season.

For John Menard, who spent years as both a team owner and sponsor in IndyCar before moving his focus to NASCAR and the career of his son, Paul, the return has been based on a sense of excitement around the series.

"I think IndyCar is on an upward trend now," Menard said.

The series will receive some much-needed offseason attention through James Hinchcliffe's participation in Dancing With The Stars. The Canadian has become a brand ambassador for IndyCar, and got the DWTS opportunity through appearances on Family Feud and The Steve Harvey Show.

Now IndyCar has gone all-in on marketing for Hinchcliffe's TV bit, and he's doing the same for the series.

"Doing Dancing With The Stars was to help spread the IndyCar message. That was honestly one of my reasons, bigger reasons, for doing it," he said. "I want to show people how cool this sport really is."

— Associated Press

Comments
Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

After a two-hour weather delay Saturday evening at USF, the remote local threat of lightning finally dissipated.The postseason intensity never did.For the second consecutive night, the UCF-USF baseball series delivered, this time with the Bulls (25-1...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Athleticsí Sean Manaea no-hits Red Sox

Athleticsí Sean Manaea no-hits Red Sox

OAKLAND, Calif. – Sean Manaea watched as Marcus Semien fired a ball from short to second baseman Jed Lowrie, turned around, and jumped into the arms of catcher Jonathan Lucroy. History was made at the Coliseum.Manaea no-hit the Red Sox on ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Maple Leafs force Game 6 with Bruins

Maple Leafs force Game 6 with Bruins

BOSTON — Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk scored 1:19 apart in the second period, and then the Maple Leafs killed off a 5-on-3 and three more power plays in a row to beat the Bruins 4-3 in Game 5 on Saturday night and avoid playoff eliminatio...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Sundayís sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosNHRA: SpringNationals2 p.m.FS1IndyCar: Grand Prix of Alabama3 p.m.NBCSNBaseballTwins at Rays1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Brewers2 p.m.FSFIndians at Orioles2 p.m.MLBCubs at Rockies (in progress)4 p.m.MLBNationals at Dodgers8 p.m.ESPNColle...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Marc Topkinís takeaways from Raysí 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

Marc Topkinís takeaways from Raysí 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

* Is it time to take the leap and believe this is the real Blake Snell? He talked a good game this spring and pitched well in his debut, but that rough second outing raised old doubts. But a good outing in Chicago and two dominant ones on the homesta...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Yankees give top prospect Gleyber Torres a shot in majors

Yankees give top prospect Gleyber Torres a shot in majors

Gleyber Torres cannot help an erratic staff of starting pitchers. Nor can he help shake Giancarlo Stanton from his April funk. But the Yankees hope that calling up Torres from Triple A on Saturday will provide a jolt before they fall much farther beh...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Georgi Hristovís 57th goal ties Rowdies team record

Georgi Hristovís 57th goal ties Rowdies team record

ST. PETERSBURG — Georgi Hristov tied a 40-year-old franchise record with his 57th career goal Saturday at Al Lang Stadium, fueling the Rowdies' 2-0 shutout of previously unbeaten Real Monarchs SLC.Hristov, a forward in his sixth season with Tam...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

When the Rays, in the opening weekend of their 20th anniversary celebration season, brought back and honored the inaugural 1998 Devil Rays squad, it got us thinking unexpected thoughts, such as which was a better team:The first one, or the current on...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

ST. PETERSBURG – Let's be clear here, the Rays still have a long way to go, and a lot of ground to make up.But seeing them play like they did Saturday in beating the Twins 10-1, putting on a solid all-around show in cobbling their first three-g...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning-Devils: How the NHLís top offense went on the defensive

Lightning-Devils: How the NHLís top offense went on the defensive

TAMPA — It was a couple of days after the Lightning beat the Bruins at home late in the regular season when associate coach Rick Bowness talked about how the defensive effort used in that shutout victory was the one the Lightning would need in ...
Updated: 5 hours ago