Formula 1

‘It just felt odd’: How Team Penske’s Tim Cindric’s spent his two-week suspension

'It just felt odd': How Team Penske's Tim Cindric's spent his two-week suspension

DETROIT – Through well over 400 race weekends with Team Penske’s IndyCar program – totaling 139 wins and more than 200 2nd- and 3rd-place finishes – team president Tim Cindric hadn’t missed a single one.

And yet on the eve of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, Roger Penske’s righthand man sat in an unassuming old-timey bar nearly 600 miles away in Mooresville, N.C. Almost jokingly that Friday night, Cindric casually asked the owner, a member of the rabid North Carolina racing community whose establishment is only open Monday-Saturday, “Hey, Sunday, can I have the keys?”

“Yeah man, you can have the keys. You can have the whole place,” the man replied.

And that’s how three of the suspended Team Penske IndyCar members – Cindric, Ron Ruzewski and Robbie Atkinson, along with their wives – watched Team Penske make history, locking out the front row for the 500 for the second-time in race history.

Longtime Team Penske president Tim Cindric is adamant his three-car IndyCar program, owned by IndyCar series owner Roger Penske, did not purposefully and knowingly cheat, after receiving swift points and monetary penalties after a 1st-3rd-4th finish at St. Pete earlier this year.

“Luke (Mason) didn’t end up coming. He was like, ‘Man, I just want to be glued to the TV,’” Cindric recalled to IndyStar on Friday afternoon inside RP1 at the Detroit Grand Prix, his first race back after a two-race suspension levied by the team owner for his role in the program’s push-to-pass scandal. “We just had the bar and the TVs all to ourselves for three hours.”

It was but one part of what Cindric called an odd couple weeks during which he says he was virtually completely disconnected from Penske’s IndyCar arm, while ensuring its NASCAR and sportscar programs continued running as usual.

Outside of a couple phone calls with Josef Newgarden – one about his miserable Sonsio Grand Prix race, another about picking up his 2023 pace car – Cindric says he “wasn’t involved with the day-to-day running of the cars.”

“I think we know where the boundaries are without really talking about them,” he continued. “It is what it is.”

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And yet, there was, in fact, reason for the suspicion that Cindric hadn’t been able to stay away from Indianapolis during the Month of May. Having long ago made promises with his childhood best friend Gov. Eric Holcomb to watch Caitlin Clark’s Indiana Fever home debut from Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Cindric worked from the team’s Mooresville headquarters for most of that week before flying in and finding a spot in a floor seat underneath one of the baskets between Holcomb and Pat McAfee.

“I wasn’t hiding,” Cindric chuckled. “Holcomb and I had planned that for quite a while.”

He stayed the following morning for a high school friend’s mother’s funeral and then flew home. He’d be back 10 days later to watch the Pacers fall to the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, alongside Holcomb and the Simon family.

“And I’m supposed to be giving a speech. Well, I shouldn’t say ‘supposed to’…” and then Cindric trails off. He catches himself and stops, because of course, he wasn’t the strategist on Newgarden’s 500-winning timing stand this May. Though Cindric spent the previous 50 weeks readying Team Penske’s next 500 push, following Newgarden’s breakthrough win in 2023 to cap a month where the program was still far from a force in qualifying, he says he experienced a weird mix of satisfaction and disconnect as the team stormed through May as the undeniable favorite.

Not only had he worked tirelessly behind the scenes since the checkered flag fell May 28, 2023 to strengthen Team Penske’s Month of May efforts – including landing the brilliance of A.J. Foyt Racing’s technical director Michael Cannon via the teams’ new technical alliance – but Cindric had helped hand-pick those who would fill in for he, Ruzewski, Mason and Atkinson after Roger Penske decided additional action was needed to atone for the team’s mistakes that left Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin disqualified from a win and a 3rd-place finish at St. Pete.

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Longtime Team Penske president Tim Cindric is adamant his three-car IndyCar program, owned by IndyCar series owner Roger Penske, did not purposefully and knowingly cheat, after receiving swift points and monetary penalties after a 1st-3rd-4th finish at St. Pete earlier this year.

“I love seeing people coming here and succeeding. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about, ‘What can we accomplish that Roger hasn’t accomplished yet?’ And about those who decide to come here and put in everything it takes to work here,” Cindric said. “Seeing them succeed, to me, that’s honestly what makes me happy.

“In motorsports, there’s a lot of levels of euphoria, from the driver, to the pit crew, and you can go through all the different levels. And there’s no way to recreate that top level (when you’re not there). But fortunately, it’s something I’ve experienced many times. That’s not to say you don’t want to do it more, but it makes it easier.”

For race day, Cindric dealt with his own unique predicament, related to the rain delay that hampered the day for hundreds of thousands packed inside the few hundreds of acres at 16th and Georgetown. With former President Donald Trump scheduled to visit Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coke 600, roads were set to shut down around the track around 3 p.m. And so Cindric hunkered down inside Penske’s condo at CMS with his wife, Megan, his oldest son Tanner and others from Penske’s NASCAR program and watched Newgarden, stand-in strategist Jonathan Diuguid, stand-in engineer Raul Prados and company make history.

“It just felt odd. Really weird,” said Cindric, describing his initial emotions of the day. “When you’re on the stand calling the race, you’re so deeply ingrained in your world, your numbers, your fuel, your pitstops, where your car is on-track, and it’s amazing how much of the race you don’t know how it happens until you watch the replay and you can really understand.

“That’s what’s so very different watching it on TV. When I watched on TV during the Split, I’m obviously still a huge fan of the 500, and I felt this time like I was a very vested fan. Like when you’re growing up and you meet somebody and decide to cheer them on like you have a connection to them. Now, multiply that by a massive amount. That’s what it was like.”

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Longtime Team Penske president Tim Cindric is adamant his three-car IndyCar program, owned by IndyCar series owner Roger Penske, did not purposefully and knowingly cheat, after receiving swift points and monetary penalties after a 1st-3rd-4th finish at St. Pete earlier this year.

There were times during the race, Cindric admits, he wasn’t sure Newgarden’s risky moves were going to hold – including the now-two-time-winner’s last-lap pass around the outside of Pato O’Ward two corners from the finish. When it did, the team president said the condo was full with a flurry of high-fives – even before the checkered flag fell. Newgarden’s ensuing run to the line sealed Penske’s record-extending 20th 500 victory, something Cindric said The Captain made clear early in Cindric’s tenure was an ultimate goal.

“That first (500) with Roger in Victory Lane, for him that was his 11th. For me, it was my first, and I thought he yelled to me, ‘I want 12!’” Cindric said. “It turns out he was saying, ‘I want 20!’ And so I said, ‘Well, we can do that next year!’ But then he said, ‘No, 20!’

“Even just one for me seemed like an eternity, so to think you’re going to do that nine more times, that just didn’t seem possible at the time. I never thought I’d see that happen.”

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With this one, Cindric has and will continue to hold a special level of pride – not only for the on-track dominance and the history it now holds, but the adversity the team contends it fought through to get there. Inside the Team Penske walls, this 500 was fought for as a paddock full of fierce rivals sensed “blood in the water” and “took shots” all May. Some both publicly and privately continue to, as key questions around the scandal remain unanswered — including why Cindric was allowed to continue working despite being "suspended" from IndyCar related activities

Tarnished reputation or not, Cindric says he and the team will press on. With May as the crowning example, he said, “We’ve got to focus on the things we can control.”

“Our choice was to separate as a team or just get more focused, and that was where my head was – trying to keep everyone focused on the job at hand,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would’ve sat there and expected to have the Month of May we had – especially these days when everyone has access to the same equipment.

“Now, I just look at it all like we’ve got to come back in and do the best job we can. I’ve played sports long enough to know you just have to focus on your part and the things you can control. When you start worrying about the things you can’t control, that’s when you don’t optimize the potential you have. That’s the mindset I’ve always had. I wouldn’t say we don’t care (about outside perception), because all that affects different people in different ways.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Team Penske's Tim Cindric's on how he spent his two-week suspension

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