Penske Focusing On Win No. 201 This Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2018

American racing icon Roger Penske was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week. But his eyes are on Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – On the day after his announced election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Roger Penske was in full starched white shirt/black slacks mode as owner of the most successful organization in the history of American motorsports.

And for “The Captain,” that meant looking squarely ahead to the 102nd edition of the Indianapolis 500…albeit with a peek into the rearview mirror of Team Penske.

“Certainly honored last night to receive the good news about the Hall of Fame,” Penske said from a stage fronting the team’s annual media luncheon Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “But we’re here today to talk about Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 and what we’re going to see here in a couple of days. I think we’ve got a great weekend coming…weather’s looking good…cars are fast and we obviously have a tremendous team here.”

Seated front-and-center where Penske’s four qualified entries for Sunday’s 200-lapper _ reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud, 2014 series champion Will Power and Helio Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 champ competing this Month of May as a one-off “ringer.” They were

Team Penske owner Roger Penske interviews his own driver, Josef Newgarden, Thursday at Indy. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

joined by Rick Mears, who as the “Rocketman” won all four of his Indy 500s driving for Penske and Tim Cindric, president, Penske Performance Inc.

A video of Penske’s Indy car victories and the A-list of drivers who delivered them _ Mark Donohue, Tom Sneva, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Mears, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr., Castroneves and Will Power _ quickly added up to 200.   

”We want to make that 201 this weekend,” said Power, who handed his boss that landmark 200th win at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course on May 12.

“We’ve got momentum,” said Penske, alluding not only to his organization but INDYCAR in general. “We see more people calling us on sponsorship. I think the class of the field _ you look at the cars, look at the teams and look at the competition _ it is better. We can feel it. We know it. No one goes into this race this weekend saying, ‘I’m the favorite and I’m going to win.’ We certainly don’t feel that way. We’re going to have to earn it, we’re going to race it, we’re going to have to make it happen.”

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon received a record 96 percent of the votes in a selection process that placed three drivers and two team owners into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, N.C.

Honored along with Sir Jeff during the Feb. 1, 2019 induction ceremonies will be 1992 NASCAR Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison and championship team-owners Penske and Jack Roush. Kulwicki and Allison were killed in separate aviation crashes within four months of each other in 1993.

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton also announced the late Jim Hunter, longtime publicist and NASCAR official, as recipient of the 2019 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Gordon’s shoe-in of an election earned headlines across the nation Thursday, momentarily upstaging Penske. And the 81-year-old graciously said he understood.  

“Jeff Gordon is a premier driver. He changed the sport,” said Penske, whose NASCAR organization competed against Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Fame team-owner Rick Hendrick beginning in the mid-1990s. “I look at not just the four people that I’m joining in the Hall of Fame. I’m looking at all the great people in the Hall of Fame. I’m glad to be in the class of five.

“I went to see the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton (Ohio) a number of years ago and it was an amazing event, something I never will forget. And when I woke up this morning and thought about the NASCAR Hall of Fame…in our world that’s a very special place. You don’t set that as a goal; a lot of people have to sign off on it. But it’s not about me at all. It’s all drivers, all the people who have built this great team and given it success. I certainly couldn’t do it by myself.”

Penske was one of America’s most successful young road-racers when he retired from driving in 1965 to focus on his business interests. As founder and chairman of Penske Corp. he oversees a diversified, on-highway transportation services company with revenues in excess of $20-billion operating in more than 3,300 locations and employing approximately 44,000 people. Need to rent any size truck? Penske has a fleet of ‘em available in signature bright Pennzoil yellow.

“We’ve taken the racing and made it a common thread through our business,” said Penske, a native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, living in suburban Detroit. “People don’t realize from the standpoint of what it’s meant to our company, our people. Motorsports makes the difference. It makes the difference with our customers, our OEMs and certainly with our team.”

Race cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced a combined 489 major race wins, 556 pole positions and 32 championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 52-year history, the team has earned a record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories, one Formula 1 win and overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

In NASCAR, Team Penske captured the Cup Series championship in 2012, the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2010 and four of the last five Xfinity Series owners’ championships (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017).

The organization has produced 108 Cup Series victories, including Daytona 500 wins in 2008 and 2015 and 65 Xfinity Series wins. In addition, Penske helped build and/or operate several successful racetracks in the sport, including Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club (originally California) Speedway, Nazareth Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway.

But Penske traces his ongoing love-affair with motorsports to the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway during its post-World War II revival. “I go back to 13 or 14-years-old and my dad brought me here in 1951,” said Penske, who garnered 68 percent of the votes needed for HOF selection. “We were late getting here and we went to a house and there was a show car there, and I’ve got a picture of myself sitting in one of those front-engine Roadsters.  I put that up in my room, and I guess I never forgot it.

”We’ve got 11 more wins to get to 500 and I told these guys, you get a big check if we get there.”

Castroneves, who is continuing as Roger’s longest-tenured driver as a rookie in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, has racked-up 32 total wins and 53 total poles in Penske machinery.

“If there was ever a person that deserved to be inducted into any racing hall of fame it would be Roger Penske,” the Brazilian said. “He deserves it not only for what he has done in motorsports but also for the person he is. He is a leader for all of us and someone I have always admired throughout my career. Congratulations, Roger, on your induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It has been such an honor to drive for you during my career. I hope to give you many more race wins in the future.”

Mears collected three Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) titles and 29 victories for Penske en route to becoming the third and most recent four-time Indy 500 winner.

“It’s been an incredible relationship between myself and Roger since Day One,” said Mears, a consultant for Team Penske. “Roger never pressured me from the moment I met him. There was never a time he came and said, ‘You need to do this.’  He always let me do things at my pace. He never pressured me to be a great driver up-front. He let me learn at my pace.  And that’s the type of person Roger Penske is.

“This is an incredible honor for someone who has been such a big part of my life, and the lives of so many within the racing industry. It’s not always about race wins and championships, but the type of influence you’re able to have on people. Roger has always prided himself on his people. He’ll be the first to tell you he would never be where he is now without the people he had around him.  And that humility and humbleness is what makes him a great leader.”

Newgarden, the point-leader heading into “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, acknowledged his is driving for an icon. “Roger is a legend in so many aspects of motorsports, so it’s only natural for him to receive this kind of recognition in NASCAR as well,” said Newgarden, who is in his second season with the organization. “It has always been a team effort for Roger and that has spread across all of his motorsports platforms. For me, it’s fun to keep up with what the NASCAR teams are doing.”

Rusty Wallace was not driving for Penske when he won the 1989 Cup championship. But Wallace retired as the third-winningest Team Penske driver in a career that produced 37 victories.

“I don’t know of anyone that has accomplished as much across all levels of motorsports as Roger Penske,” Wallace said. “I don’t know of anyone in motorsports that is as respected among all levels of racing and business as Roger. He’s my personal mentor and my personal hero. He’s one of those guys that just commands respect. Not just because of all of his success, but because he really cares about people.

“Everyone wants to please Roger because he does so much to help everyone else and he just has that desire to win. Winning is contagious around Roger.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2018
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