IndyCar

Penske’s Tim Cindric watched Indy 500 from Charlotte condo: ‘More odd than sad’

Penske’s Tim Cindric watched Indy 500 from Charlotte condo: ‘More odd than sad’

DETROIT – Team owner Roger Penske long ago earned the nickname “The Captain” at Team Penske as the man who steers the ship through calm and sometimes troubled waters.

Since the end of the 1999 season, Team Penske President Tim Cindric has been the ship’s “Commander” as the man in charge of the day-to-day operations at the most successful team in auto racing history.

Cindric was one of four vital team members that was suspended for the Month of May at the Indianapolis 500 because of their role in the “Push-to-Pass” scandal that led to the disqualifications of race winner Josef Newgarden, third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin and a penalty to Will Power in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10.

As “The Captain,” Penske suspended Cindric, IndyCar managing director Ron Ruzewski and engineers Luke Mason and Robbie Atkinson for their role in the scandal, which meant all four were not allowed to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or even have contact with the team in an official capacity.

“I’m not really going to reflect on all that,” Cindric told NBCSports.com. “Obviously, as an organization, you don’t want to be in that situation.

“That’s all I have to say on that.”

Despite the loss of our key team members, Team Penske dominated the month of May at the Indianapolis 500, sweeping the front row for only the second time in Indy 500 history with McLaughlin on pole, Power in the middle and Newgarden on the outside of Row 1.

On Race Day, May 26, Newgarden drove to his second-straight Indy 500 win in a tremendous duel with Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward.
Penske was redeemed with a record-extending 20th career Indy 500 win.

Meantime, 554 miles away at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Cindric attended the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 and watched the Indianapolis 500 from a condominium that overlooks the track.

“Obviously, I got to go to the 600 and do that and with the rain delay and all that, I was sitting in the condo watching the 500 on television,” Cindric told NBCSports.com Friday morning at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Yeah, it was odd, but at the same time, once the race started, you're into it as a fan and obviously a vested fan.”

Cindric is a homegrown Hoosier, a native of Indiana who was a basketball star at Pike High School on the northwest side of Indianapolis. He earned a scholarship to play basketball at Rose-Hulman College in Terre Haute, Indiana where he earned his engineering degree.

Cindric’s father, Carl, built racing engines for Herb Porter’s engine facility. Although that company built engines for teams that were the back markers of the Indy 500 of days gone by, the younger Cindric grew up in racing.

After earning his engineering degree, the younger Cindric was hired at TrueSports, a CART team owned by the late Jim Trueman. Driver Bobby Rahal purchased the team and Cindric was one of his key engineers in the early 1990s.

He impressed the most successful team owner in IndyCar, Penske, who needed to put a man in place to bring the team back to prominence after it hit a slump from the mid-1990s to the end of 1999.

Since taking over at Team Penske president before the start of the 2000 season, Cindric has presided over a spectacular and glorious era for the racing organization.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

In 2019, Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman George Family and that put him in a unique position of owning the race that his team had so long dominated.

Penske removed himself from the daily operation of the team to focus on IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When IndyCar officials discovered the team had used the push-to-pass system on starts and restarts at St. Petersburg, it was a violation that couldn’t be overlooked.

At 87, Penske admitted he was embarrassed by the disqualifications and took decisive action to suspend the four key members that should have prevented it.

So, this year, Cindric had to watch the Indianapolis 500 from afar.

Race Day at the Indianapolis 500 is something that those involved in IndyCar as well as native Hoosiers and race fans around the world hold dear to their heart.

It’s a day of emotion and pride, when grown men weep from the military moment of silence and the sound of a single bugler playing taps as over 300,000 fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are completely silent.

It’s also a moment of pride when Jim Cornelison sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” before Penske gives the comment, “Drivers, start your engines.”

For the first time since 1999, however, Cindric was not there to share in the experience.

“I wasn’t sad, but it was difficult,” Cindric told NBCSports.com. “It’s kind of odd not to be there. I mean, sad, I don't think it was the right word.

“I was anxious to see us race. I’m still a fan at heart. It's hard not to be there. And it's more odd than anything else.”

Team Penske’s “Commander” returned to his ship Friday morning in the paddock area of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. Because there is also and IMSA Sports Car Race in addition to the NTT IndyCar Series this weekend, Cindric was wearing the Porsche Penske Motorsport uniform instead of the Team Penske uniform when he sat down for a private interview with NBCSports.com.

As Newgarden arrived to go inside of RP-1, Team Penske’s office motorhome, he did a double-take when he saw Cindric seated outside. He walked over to greet the man who normally calls the race strategy on his No. 2 Chevrolet, but in this year’s Indy 500 it was Jonathan. Diuguid.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

McLaughlin saw Cindric and immediately rushed over and said, “Hell, yeah! Hell, yeah! Hell, yeah!” giving his boss a high-five handshake.

“The Boss” was back and the team missed him, but despite his absence, the team achieved some great things in this year’s 108th Indianapolis 500.

The front row sweep, the pit stop contest victory and Newgarden’s back-to-back Indy 500 win made it one of the most successful months in Team Penske history.

Although they weren’t there, Cindric, Ruzewski, Atkinson and Mason all helped create a winning foundation for the team this year at the Indianapolis 500.

“Oh, without a doubt, it was fun to watch,” Cindric said. “To see to see it go that smoothly and all that you never expect that.”

It also proved that Team Penske has a very deep bench. They lost four incredibly important team members, and plugged in replacements that more than met the challenge.

“You don’t know until you actually have to tell the players to play,” Cindric said. “You don’t know how they respond in those difficult situations, or maybe in environments that they're not accustomed to, especially under that kind of pressure, so it was really good.

“We just kind of focus on what we do.”

One of those was Diuguid, who normally runs the Porsche Penske Motorsport Sports Car team. Although he is an Indy 500 veteran who worked as an engineer with Helio Castroneves at Team Penske, Newgarden’s victory on May 26 was the first for Diuguid calling race strategy.

Raul Prados was the engineer, replacing Mason.

“I say all the time when I was younger it was more about accomplishing my own goals,” Cindric said. “I’ve been able to be part of more than I expected. But when you see others where we're going to be able to do that. and when you see others, you know, accomplish their goals when they come to this team.

“It's so difficult to find experienced people and when they choose to come to your team and you want them to succeed, you want them to know that they made the right choice. Jonathan obviously has a lot on his plate with the whole Porsche program and that type of thing.

“To be put in that position isn't an easy, so you love it when they succeed.”

Cindric contends he was not involved in any decision-making during the month of May.

“I watched from afar,” he said.

2024 INDYCAR Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix

But he certainly had some tremendous insight and viewpoint at why the team excelled in qualifications and had a stunning Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“There was a lot of discussion about all that that I read along the way,” Cindric explained. “I think it was just all the attention to all the details.

“Yeah, without a doubt we worked with the Foyt group and put our heads together there. Between the two of us there were there were good things if you put it all together.

“Last year, obviously you look at obvious things that are obvious speed changes. Will Power made the comment we were the only ones in the top 12 that you know didn't have the older push rods on the car but that's literally half a second or half a mile an hour to three-quarters of a mile an hour at Indy. You correct for those things and when you make those kinds of corrections you see why just if you take that in or out why it brought the field together.

“I think everybody would have showed up with those this year one way or the other, but I think that would have been a limited quantity.”

The push rods were on the suspension, not the push rods of an engine. According to Cindric, they created less drag, which helped Team Penske achieve more speed.

“We were missing a good half a mile an hour at least last year just because we didn’t use those,” Cindric explained. “We had them if we needed to run them, but we missed that. That wasn't something that became obvious to us until after qualifying last year.

“Beyond that, I think it was the optimization of everything. But when you looked at the difference between where our cars ran and everybody else, it comes down to the details and this group has been working on that for a while.”

During his IndyCar suspension, Cindric worked on other aspects at Team Penske. He helped guide the IMSA Porsche team to Team Penske’s 100thSports Car Victory at Monterey, California.

“It allowed me to be there for the whole weekend rather than just race day,” Cindric said. “I got to stay in my house in Carmel, California, that’s always nice.

“When you are here and see the 100th Team Penske win for NASCAR, IndyCar and Sports cars, that’s really cool.

“When I look at Raul Prados, being a race engineer on the Rolex 24-Hour race and the Indy 500 race winners. I'm not sure anybody's done that. At least he's the guy I know that's done it.

“I thought it was really cool.

“The front row, in this day and age when things are really close, I didn’t think I would ever see that.”

There have been other times during Cindric’s career when he has missed the Indy 500, such as 1993 when Bobby Rahal failed to make the field for the Indy 500 as the defending CART champion. He also missed the Indy 500 from 1996-99 during the split when CART teams boycotted the Indy 500 because of the creation of the rival Indy Racing League.

He returned in 2000 to help driver Jason Leffler’s effort at Treadway Racing. Team Penske was involved in that effort as it weighed its decision to return to the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 2001.
Twenty-three years later, Team Penske celebrated a record 20th Indy 500 victory.

“Well, independent of all that, when I was in victory lane, my first Indy 500 with Roger in 2001, and this is what the 20th to me means, what it means is that would have been No. 11 for Roger,” Cindric explained. “My dad spent, 20 or 30 years trying to win a race with one of his engines and it never happened, so I completely appreciate how difficult it is to win that race and wasn't sure I was ever going to get to experience that.

“And we're in Victory Lane at Indy, I remember quite vividly, and I said to him, I said, ‘I know this is old hat for you, but for me I wasn't sure this day was ever going to come.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ve finished one-two here you know until today.’

“He said, ‘But, I want 20.’ I thought he said 12 because it was 11 and meant 12.

“I said, ‘We can do that. We can do that next year.’

“He said, ‘No, I said 20.’

“And for me, 20 just seemed so far away, and to actually be able to accomplish that, with him to see that he's won 40 percent of the Indy 500s he's been in is amazing.”

Not only was it amazing, but it was also decisive, a testament to the determination of Team Penske to triumph over adversity.

“I think it's less about that, honestly, than it is to have a month like our team had, where you sweep the front row, you win the pit stop contest, you lead the most laps, then you win the race,” Cindric said. “At Indy, that's a big month.

“That's a big month.

“I'm proud of the fact that our team, stuck together and stayed focused, you know, under the circumstances.

“Kyle Moyer, there was a lot on his shoulders that typically wasn’t there. The cars ran flawlessly.

“I kept waiting for something to go wrong from my standpoint, but they never did.

“That's a big testament to how well the team was prepared.

“Absolutely, I think it was for everybody. Any time you are part of history relative to Roger’s legacy, it’s a big deal for everybody.”

Cindric is back and the “Commander” returns to the Newgarden’s timing stand beginning with this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of Detroit.

“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m ready to go.

“Yes, I am.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

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