Penske Move To Ford Was Step Toward Title
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
A lot of people have been of the opinion that recent developments at Penske Racing had showed that the team and car-maker Dodge were on the right track in their pursuit of a Sprint Cup championship.
Some said that driver Brad Keselowski’s quick rise to the status of contender, and the signing of promising and versatile AJ Allmendinger to fill the seat of the team’s second Cup car, would put Penske Racing over the top in Cup.
But clearly, team owner Roger Penske has not been holding a similar opinion.
Penske, the winner of 12 major open wheel championships and 15 Indianapolis 500s, knew that his association with the smallest of the automakers currently fielding cars in the Sprint Cup Series could only take him so far and on Thursday announced that he was throwing in with Ford Racing.
During a teleconference on Thursday afternoon, Penske stressed several times that winning the Cup championship – about the only thing in the world that he has not won as a race-team owner – was the over-riding reason for hooking up with Ford Racing.
“Let me say this,” Penske, the winningest owner in American open-wheel racing, said, “this wasn’t about money and I want to make that clear from the standpoint of everybody that’s on the call. I think that we evaluated, when you look at the strength of the teams in NASCAR – the multiple car teams – the success that Stewart-Haas had and the alignment with Hendrick. Also with Gibbs and Waltrip and the teams that were out there.
“We’ve been operating for the last 10 years pretty much with some support in the previous years, maybe four or five years ago, but we needed to have a benchmark and I think that having that additional technical information flow through the process as Ford has outlined it to us, I think, was very important to us.”
At points over the past several years, the fact that Penske was Dodge’s only major customer, was viewed as a plus. By some at Dodge and even by some at Penske Racing.
The logic was that being the sole Dodge partner would allow Penske to be the focus of that maker’s attention.
But as the sport evolved, it became obvious that that logic was faulty.
“This was a very tough decision and I think we had discussions with Dodge,” Penske said Thursday. “This wasn’t something that happened in the last 24 or 48 hours. It was over a few months and I think when we weighed the plusses and minuses of the opportunity, it was apparent to us that we need to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and we have been trying to do it alone.”
In moving to Ford, Penske will not, he said, benefit only from increased cooperation and information flow from the “One-Ford” philosophy the Dearborn company stresses. He will also benefit from internal competition.
Specifically, competition from Ford’s bell-cow partner, Roush Fenway Racing and its Roush Yates Engines program.
“I think the chance for us in this particular case to be able to benchmark against someone like Roush and Roush Yates will give us a chance to be sure that we can be a leading team in NASCAR in the future,” Penske said.
The plan for Penske is to build its own Ford engines, not those being produce by Roush ala Richard Petty Motorsports.
Penske has being doing in-house engine building for a long time and “The Captain” is quite proud of his people and the results.
“From an engine perspective, if you go back in Penske Racing’s history, I would say that all the time we’ve been in many different motorsports, we have had our own engine company and developed our own engines,” Penske, who has won a Nationwide Series championship and a Daytona 500, said. “And I think this was not part of the agreement, from the standpoint with Ford, that we would use Roush Yates or use other people’s engine. This is certainly something that we’re going to evaluate going forward.”
Neither Penske nor Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, think adding a team of Penske Racing’s stature will result in diminished results for the other Ford teams. On the contrary.
“Let me say this, Jack (Roush) has been kicking my butt here for a number of years, so I don’t expect him to stop,” Penske said. “On the other hand, I think the association, as I said to Jamie, maybe one plus one equals three and I think that’s what we have to do and then fight it out on the race track.”
Allison said, “The one plus one equals three still resonates in my mind when we first met with Penske Racing. We were in search of adding to the excellence of the program with an addition of excellence.”
So, in the end, it’s really not surprising that Penske has opted to wave adieu to lone wolf racing in NASCAR. The surprising thing is that it took him so long to do – contract with Dodge or no contract with Dodge.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment