IndyCar Off-season analysis: Team Penske

USA TODAY Sports

The IndyCar off-season team analysis continues with defending championship runner-ups Team Penske and drivers Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya.

The story stayed the same for Team Penske in 2013 as yet another one of the Captain's crewmen finished second in the championship for a fourth straight time.

The ‘victim' was Will Power from 2010-2012 and Helio Castroneves last season. Even Ryan Briscoe had a championship fall out from under him before finishing third in 2009. As a result, team owner Roger Penske retooled in the off-season, signing 1999 CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya to return to open-wheel once rival Chip Ganassi opted not to resign him in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

It was a season composed of both disappointment and near-misses for a team accustomed to winning championships over the past three decades.

Looking back:

Will Power entered the season as one of the predicted championship favorites for Penske but he didn't find his footing or first win until he was long out of the championship picture.

JR Hildebrand blindly ran into the back of Power at St. Petersburg, setting the tone for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, the Aussie struggled to qualify on the front row with the same consistency that he had in recent seasons and it cost him.

Power looked lost in the middle of the field and was pushed off the track and involved in way too many accidents in the first few road and street course events. But winning three of the final five races and jumping from 11th in the standings to fourth by the end of the season has to provide optimism that the bulk of the bad luck is behind the No. 12 team.

Helio Castroneves, despite all the success in the Indianapolis 500, had yet to win a championship entering this season.

And at 38-years-old, he was seemingly shot out of a cannon with pinpoint consistency as he lead the standings for 14 of the 19 races. But Castroneves only won once -- at Texas -- and once the consistency ran out, so did his championship hopes with mechanical failures in both races at Reliant Park.

Looking ahead:

While it may take a few races for Montoya to get re-acclimated to open-wheel racing, Penske has stacked the deck in his efforts to both return to Victory Lane at Indianapolis and pick up the team's first championship since 2006 (Sam Hornish Jr.)

In Montoya, Power and Castroneves, Penske has three bonafide championship contenders. He also has more than enough firepower to chase down the Borg Warner Trophy as well.

In winning at Fontana, Power has proven that he can win on an oval (without the aid of a qualifying draw) and can win anywhere on the schedule. Despite the past success of his teammates, Power with Faustino may be the championship favorite once again but may finally have the confidence and momentum on the full schedule to finally close out.

Meanwhile Montoya and Castroneves are both former winners at Indianapolis and may be a safe bet once again. If Castroneves or Montoya can string together a few victories and maintain a sense of consistency, championships could be in their future as well.

Best case for 2014: An argument could be made for all three Team Penske drivers to finish in the top-5 in the championship standings next season. But realistically, all three should win races in 2014. It's more likely that one of the three separate from the others in the standings with the others playing a support role for the title contender.

Worst case for 2014: Another season where a Penske driver finishes second in the standings due to a late season collapse. But even under the most pessimistic of perspectives, it's hard to foresee a scenario where at least one Penske driver doesn't win multiple races and contend for the season championship.

How do you think Team Penske will fare next season after bulking its driver roster with the addition of Juan Pablo Montoya? Tell us in the comments section below.

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