Team Penske – Looking at the results on paper, the people at Penske should be thrilled with their 2012 season. The three-driver team notched six wins and an additional six podium finishes, often looking like the class of the field. In fact, with four races to go, two of their drivers, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, were both viable title contenders. But once again the team could not close out the season. Castroneves watched his season go awry and Power faltered in Fontana and was relegated to finishing second for the championship for the third time. For an organization like Penske, not winning the Astor Cup is bittersweet in comparison to their results.
But all is not lost. The team shrewdly moved to Chevrolet engines to begin the year and that paid off. In addition, the teams were fast. Any other organization would be happy to have their drivers finish in overall positions of second, fourth, and sixth. That sixth-placed driver, Ryan Briscoe, is the one big question-mark this offseason, with rumors speculating as to whether he’ll be back. Perhaps his solid late season finishes will keep him around. Either way, Penske should again be in the title hunt next year.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – It’s hard to tell what RLLR really is at this point. Running the tried-and-true Honda engines, the team seemed to be better than its finishes indicate. The fact that their driver, Takuma Sato had the chance to sneak by and win the Indy 500 is remarkable. But in telling fashion, the fact that their driver wrecked in trying to do so also says a lot about the team – bringing up the problematic question of whether or not Sato is a good driver.
There’s some reason to feel that this team can be competitive. For starters, Sato finished 14th in points and managed two podium finishes. In addition, he also had three top tens, but the flipside is that the team finished with positions in the twenties seven times. So it seems that RLLR, with Sato at the wheel, is a team that can be decent and competitive or a mess – and much of that has to do with Sato continually wrecking. Should Sato be able to keep the car on the track next year, it might give the truest measure of what kind of team RLLR is, but until then they’re stuck mid-pack.
A.J. Foyt Racing – A one-car team that has been trying to earn respectable finishes, AJFR struggled to earn them this year. It’s hard to know whether the team is not very good or the driver, Mike Conway, is the problem here, as the team secured just one podium finish and two other top tens. Most of the team’s finishes came in the mid-pack area and in many ways, there was little by which the team could get excited. Another team that stuck with the Honda engines, they showed little improvement later in the year with the improved engine mapping.
The team might best be known this season for having Conway elect not to race the season-ending oval in Fontana – citing his lack of comfort on ovals. This move could prove difficult for AJFR in the future, as having a driver who can race all the tracks should be part of the plan. But for now, it doesn’t really matter, as this team is not one that can compete for championships. The strange thing about this team is that it is hard to tell if they are falling behind or gaining ground, which might just mean they’re staying put.
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