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Roger Penske Committed to NASCAR’s Involvement at IMS in “A Big Way”

The motorsports world woke up to big news when it was revealed that Roger Penske is now the new owner of the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The news coming following the current board of directors of the Hulman Company entering into an agreement to be acquired by Penske Corporation. Under the agreement, Penske Entertainment, a subsidiary of Penske Corporation, will acquire all the principal assets of Hulman & Company, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series, and the IMS Productions.

RELATED: Read the full press release at Popular Open Wheel

Although much of the current focus appears to be on what the future of open-wheel racing looks like, the news affects the NASCAR side of the equation with IMS hosting both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series each season.

While stating that he was looking at other uses for the facility referencing a possible 24-hour or Formula 1 event, Penske expressed his commitment to keeping NASCAR in the equation. 

“The tradition had been broken in adding the NASCAR race, which obviously we’re going to get behind that in a big way because for 27 years they’ve run here,” he said on Monday morning.

Prior the press conference, Penske spoke with NASCAR’s CEO and Chairman Jim France, who expressed excitement about the deal.

“The Hulman-George family has been instrumental in the growth of motorsports through their passion for racing, elevating Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series to a global scale, and we thank them for their leadership and significant contributions to NASCAR,” France released in a statement. “Roger Penske is incredibly accomplished across both motorsports and business and we look forward to the successful operation of these properties under his experienced leadership.”

Penske was quick to reference the pair have worked together previously, including being partners through International Speedway Corporation with Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

“We actually sold our business to them back several years ago,” Penske commented. “So we have a very close relationship and certainly with Jim and with Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell and the entire France family. We would expect to take this for many, many years. They need to run at Indiana. We want them to, and there’s no question that we’re going to look at opportunities to expand the relationship with them in the future.”

Both NASCAR and IndyCar have crossed in several discussions in the past, including potential of a doubleheader weekend with the Cup Series and IndyCar Series. 

“I think it was interesting to see (Josef) Newgarden run around what they call the Roval here down in Charlotte several weeks ago, and I think it was pretty exciting,” Penske commented. “I think some of the fans had never seen an Indy car on an oval or a racetrack. Look, those are things, sitting down Tony will give us some of his input and certainly Mark and the team, are those things we can do, can we execute those so we bring value here to the speedway.

“Look, we’ve got to break some glass on some of these things, don’t we. We’ve got to try some of this. I’m prepared to take a risk. No risk, no reward in many cases. Those are the things that Mark, with you and your team, that we’ll take a look at. But I wouldn’t say it’s out of the possibility.”

Despite the new business venture, Penske was also quick to reaffirm his commitment to his race team, which currently fields three cars in the Cup Series and a pair in the Xfinity Series.

“We’ve got over 500 people down in Mooresville where we have all our teams, and with Tim Cindric as our leader, I’ll be working with him just as I have in the past,” he said.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Honors Five NASCAR Legends

Allison, Gordon, Kulwicki, Penske and Roush Officially Enshrined

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2019) – Five of NASCAR’s legendary competitors – three drivers and two owners – were enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight during the Induction Ceremony held in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush comprise the 10th Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame – now home to 50 inductees.

A phenom from Northern California, Gordon is credited for taking NASCAR from a southern pastime to the mainstream. He became the youngest driver in the modern era to win a premier series title as a 24-year-old in 1995. The leader of the Rainbow Warriors – named for his colorful Chevrolet – went on to win three more championships (1997, ’98, 2001). In 1998 Gordon won a modern era-record 13 races. He finished his career third on the all-time wins list with 93 victories. The youthful, flashy Gordon served as the perfect rival to the rugged Dale Earnhardt Sr. and was the first NASCAR driver to host “Saturday Night Live.” He retired from full-time NASCAR racing as the sport’s iron man, boasting a record 797 consecutive starts.

“What a special evening. I’m so honored to be here surrounded by friends, family, fans and many people that have worked very hard behind the scenes for me over the years,” Gordon said. “Thank you to the fans who make racing the great sport that it is. You make being a race car driver a dream come true.”

Allison is regarded as one of the top pure talents to ever take the wheel of a race car. He won 19 races and 14 poles before his tragic death in a helicopter accident in 1993 at 33 years old. The son of 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby Allison, he finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500 as the pair became the only father-son duo to finish first and second in NASCAR’s biggest event. Allison would later win ‘The Great American Race’ in 1992.

An accomplished short-track racer from Wisconsin, Kulwicki moved to Charlotte in 1984 with only a pickup truck and self-built race car with the hope of competing in NASCAR’s premier series. He quickly made his dream into a reality earning Rookie of the Year with his self-owned team in 1986 and picking up his first win at Phoenix in 1988. Despite lucrative offers, Kulwicki never raced for anyone but himself. In 1992, he overcame a 278-point deficit with six races left to capture the NASCAR premier series championship on the strength of two wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10s. Unfortunately, Kulwicki never got the chance to defend his title after dying in a plane crash on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway in 1993. He’ll forever be known for his trademark “Polish Victory Lap,” a celebratory cool-down lap with the driver’s window facing the fans.

One of America’s renowned entrepreneurs, Roger Penske has built a motorsports empire involved with racing for more than 50 years. Penske has won 114 NASCAR premier series races, two Daytona 500s (Ryan Newman, 2008; Joey Logano, 2015), four Xfinity Series owner titles, and two premier series owner championships (Brad Keselowski, 2012; Joey Logano, 2018). Outside of competition, he built Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in 1996 and previously owned Michigan International Speedway. NASCAR Hall of Famers Rusty Wallace (36 wins) and Bobby Allison (four wins) have raced for Penske.

“This Hall of Fame honor and this moment is very special to me, and I am so glad to share it with my family and friends,” Penske said. “Racing has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. It is a common thread that is woven throughout all of our Penske business. Racing is simply who we are.”

A graduate-level mathematician and engineering entrepreneur from Michigan, Roush was a drag racing owner and enthusiast before he decided to try his hand at NASCAR in 1988. Since entering the sport, he’s won a record 324 races across NASCAR’s three national series and boasts five owner championships, including two premier series titles (Matt Kenseth, 2003; Kurt Busch, 2004). Roush initially built his powerhouse team by pairing with 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Mark Martin, who won 83 national series races for Roush from 1988-2005.

“‘When I announced my plan to start a NASCAR Cup team in January 1988, few if any knowledgeable fans and even fewer Cup team personnel would have given me favorable odds of surviving for more than three decades as I stand before you tonight,” Roush said.

In addition to the five inductees enshrined today, Jim Hunter was honored as the fifth recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Hunter’s career in the NASCAR industry spanned more than 50 years as a NASCAR executive, track president, public relations professional and journalist. He worked for a decade as an award-winning journalist before transitioning to public relations for Dodge, then Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. In 1983, Hunter was named NASCAR vice president of administration. Ten years later, he became president of Darlington Raceway and corporate vice president of the International Speedway Corporation. Hunter was a close confidant of Bill France Jr. who lured him back to NASCAR in 2001 to lead an expanded public relations effort aimed at responding to the needs of burgeoning media coverage. Many drivers and industry executives credit Hunter’s mentorship as the key to their NASCAR success.

Prior to tonight’s Induction Ceremony, journalist Steve Waid was presented the seventh Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

About NASCAR

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States. NASCAR consists of three national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™, NASCAR Xfinity Series™, and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series™), three regional series, one local grassroots series, three international series and the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA). The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information visit www.NASCAR.com and www.IMSA.com, and follow NASCAR on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Snapchat (‘NASCAR’).

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2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductees Selected

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 23, 2018) – NASCAR announced today the inductees who will comprise the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019. The five-person group – the 10th since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 – consists of Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Jeff Gordon, Roger Penske and Jack Roush. In addition, NASCAR announced that Jim Hunter earned the 2019 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The distinguished group will be honored during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Feb. 1, 2019.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met today in a closed session at the Charlotte Convention Center to debate and vote upon the 20 nominees for the induction class of 2019 and the five nominees for the Landmark Award.

The Class of 2019 was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, including representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the fifth year, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion (Martin Truex Jr.). In all, 57 votes were cast, with two additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson). The accounting firm of EY presided over the tabulation of the votes.

Voting was as follows: Jeff Gordon (96%), Jack Roush (70%), Roger Penske (68%), Davey Allison (63%) and Alan Kulwicki (46%).

The next top vote-getters were Buddy Baker, Hershel McGriff and Waddell Wilson.

Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Davey Allison, Buddy Baker, Harry Gant, Jeff Gordon and Alan Kulwicki.

The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included, in addition to the five inductees chosen: Buddy Baker, Red Farmer, Ray Fox, Harry Gant, Joe Gibbs, John Holman, Harry Hyde, Bobby Labonte, Hershel McGriff, Ralph Moody, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd, Kirk Shelmerdine, Mike Stefanik and Waddell Wilson.

Nominees for the Landmark Award included Janet Guthrie, Barney Hall, Alvin Hawkins, Hunter and Ralph Seagraves.

The Class of 2019 Induction Weekend is set for Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, through Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The official Induction Ceremony will take place on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. The Class of 2019 marks the 10th class and a total of 50 legends inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. To celebrate the momentous occasion, new events and special programs have been added throughout the extended weekend.

Tickets to Induction Ceremony events begin at $75 per person (plus tax and applicable service fees). Tickets go on sale on Saturday, June 9, 2018, at 10 a.m. ET. A special pre-sale will be available to NASCAR Hall of Fame members Wednesday, May 30, 2018, through Friday, June 8, 2018. To learn about becoming a NASCAR Hall of Fame member, visit nascarhall.com/membership. For additional details about the Class of 2019 Induction Weekend schedule and ticket packages, visit nascarhall.com/inductees/induction-ceremony.

Class of 2019 Inductees:

Davey Allison

Davey Allison was born with speed. The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison grew up more interested in football, but could not escape the racing bug, following his father into the family profession. The younger Allison honed his skills at local Alabama tracks, getting his big break in 1987, taking over for legendary driver Cale Yarborough in Ranier-Lundy’s Ford Thunderbird. Allison spent no time continuing the family’s legacy, compiling two wins, five poles and nine top fives in his full-season debut to capture 1987 premier series rookie of the year. Allison won 19 races and 14 poles, including the 1992 Daytona 500, before his tragic death in a helicopter accident in 1993.

Jeff Gordon

Blessed with once-in-a-generation talent and charisma, Jeff Gordon helped take NASCAR from a regional sport to the mainstream. Gordon took NASCAR by storm in the 1990s, becoming the youngest driver in the modern era to win a premier series title as a 24-year-old in 1995. He went on to win three more championships (1997, ’98, 2001). In 1998, Gordon led the Rainbow Warriors – named for his colorful No. 24 Chevrolet – to a modern era-record 13 wins. Overall, he won 93 races, which ranks third on the all-time wins list. Gordon is a three-time Daytona 500 champion and won the Brickyard 400 a record five times.

Alan Kulwicki

Noted Wisconsin short-track racer Alan Kulwicki moved to Charlotte in 1984 with nothing but a pickup truck, a self-built race car and the hopes of competing in NASCAR’s highest series. He had no sponsor and a limited budget. Kulwicki burst onto the scene as the 1986 NASCAR Rookie of the Year with his self-owned AK Racing team. Throughout his career, Kulwicki received lucrative offers from powerhouse race teams, but insisted on racing for himself. That determination eventually led to his first of five career victories at Phoenix in 1988. His signature season was his championship-winning 1992 campaign, where Kulwicki overcame a 278-point deficit with six races remaining to capture the NASCAR premier series title. Kulwicki never got the chance to defend his title, dying in a plane crash in 1993.

Roger Penske

A true captain of industry, Roger Penske has steered one of the most successful motorsports ships in the sport’s history. Penske, who celebrated his 50th anniversary in racing in 2016, reached a major milestone and collected a prestigious award during the golden anniversary season. That year, he reached 100 wins in NASCAR’s premier series and capped off the season by receiving the Bill France Award of Excellence. Penske won the premier series championship in 2012 with driver Brad Keselowski, and owns two Daytona 500 wins with Ryan Newman in 2008 and Joey Logano in 2015. And from 2013-15, Penske tied a record with three consecutive owner championship in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Off the track, Penske likewise makes an indelible mark. He built the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in 1996, and previously owned Michigan International Speedway.

Jack Roush

Once a Michigan-based drag racing owner and enthusiast, Jack Roush made his best motorsports decision when he turned south in 1988 to start a NASCAR team. Since beginning Roush Racing (now known as Roush Fenway Racing), the graduate-level mathematician turned engineering entrepreneur has won a record 325 races across NASCAR’s three national series. Overall, Roush boasts five NASCAR national series owner championships, while his drivers have won an additional three driver championships. Roush has displayed a prowess for discovering and developing talent. He helped Matt Kenseth (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004) grow into premier series champions and also jumpstarted the careers of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.

Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR:

Jim Hunter

Throughout his career, Jim Hunter left an indelible mark on NASCAR and those associated with the sport. His wit and wisdom helped guide NASCAR’s growth during portions of six decades as a company executive, track president, public relations professional and journalist. Hunter broke into the motorsports business as a member of the media in the 1950s. He worked as the sports editor of the Columbia Record, was an award-winning reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and columnist for Stock Car Racing magazine. He moved to the public relations side of the business with Dodge in the 1960s before serving as public relations director at Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. In 1993, he became president of Darlington Raceway and corporate vice president of the International Speedway Corporation. He remained at Darlington until 2001 when he accepted an offer from Bill France Jr. to return to NASCAR to lead an expanded public relations effort aimed at responding to the needs of burgeoning media coverage. 

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Pagenaud Falls Short In Defense Of Crown

The odds were not in his favor entering the final chapter of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday; however, Simon Pagenaud fought hard to keep his No. 1 plate for another year.

Going off-sequence with an aggressive, four-stop pit strategy to move from the second row of the grid to the top spot by the end of the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Frenchman did what he had to do to win his second title. But, the needed luck unfortunately never came about. Despite driving the wheels off his DXC Chevrolet, even going off course on back-to-back laps at the challenging turn nine chicane, the veteran never gave way. Pagenaud managed to reach the checkered flag first, but his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden finished behind him in second, just enough to take his first series championship by 13 points.

“It was Kyle Moyer’s (race engineer) idea to go with four stops, it was a great call from and probably the only way we could win (today),” said Pagenaud to IndyCar Radio after the race. “We did everything we could do, but Josef did enough to hold us off, he deserves it.”

It is not that Pagenaud has had a bad season in 2017; it is just a step below what he achieved in 2016. In his championship-clinching campaign, the Chevrolet pilot opened the year with an astounding first five races where he either won the event or placed second. With the big surge, not even a two-race skid at Indy and Detroit, nor a similar dominant phase from Australia’s Will Power with six straight podiums could deny the French-based chauffeur from lifting the Astor Cup.

This year, the win count dropped from five a season ago, to just two including Sunday’s win at Sonoma; however, the Frenchman was much more consistent as a front-runner. After claiming 10 top-five’s in 2016, Pagenaud improved the count to 13 in 2017. Unfortunately, the same two rounds that hampered him a season ago, were prevalent in keeping his name off the championship trophy this time around. Despite having a goal to win the Indianapolis 500, the Frenchman struggled throughout May, only qualifying on the eighth row and settling for a 14th-place finish. The following weekend at The Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan was equally challenging, and he was credited with a 16th in the first of two scheduled events.

While Newgarden also was a non-factor at the Brickyard, placing 19th after being collected in a late-race pile-up in llturn two, a similar run of wins and runner-ups in rounds 12 through 15 were enough to top Pagenaud’s results. The Frenchman was equally strong though, posting no finishes worse than ninth in Toronto.

“We won the race. It wasn’t enough,” explained Pagenaud after the race. “It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong at every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year.”

Although the make-up of Team Penske next year is still in question with whether Helio Castroneves will return to contest the full season in 2018 or not, most of the key players are in place for Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Will Power should be back in full force. If the transition to a new look Dallara DW12 causes a few headaches, the experience should keep the Captain’s trio or quartet near the front of the proceedings, and if things work out, Simon Pagenaud may reclaim his title in 365 days time.

Still, when one looks back on his 2017 campaign, a runner-up placing is far from a failure.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar

Time Running Out For Honda Runners

While Team Penske has not dominated the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series as they did a year ago, things are starting to appear bleak for those in pursuit.

Despite being outclassed significantly on the high-speed ovals this season, the Captain’s quartet led by current championship leader Josef Newgarden, looks set to secure yet another No. 1 plate looking ahead to next season. The Tennessee-native has been stout in winning the last two events at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. However, any of his three teammates could jump in and snatch the crown from him.

For now, the biggest challenge could be from Helio Castroneves. Although the Brazilian has only one win in 2017 at Iowa Speedway, he has been the more consistent Firestone Fast Six qualifier among the super team. The incentives could also be higher for Castroneves, as rumors about a potential jump to a Honda-supported sports car program for 2018 continue to gain steam. It’s difficult to believe that since his debut in CART in 1998 and with his three Indianapolis 500 victories, the popular veteran has not won a series title.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud has offered a solid defense through 13 of 17 rounds, trading in many victories from 2016 for his trademark consistency. Amazingly, 2015 title holder Will Power is still in contention, despite six placements of 13th or worse in 2017. After an ugly open, the Australian has righted the ship placing fifth or better in six of the last seven. If Power can survive the two oval events at Pocono and St. Louis, his potential to secure a second title increases considerably on the two road courses to close out the campaign at Watkins Glen and Sonoma respectively. The latter of those two outings, of course, offering double points.

As witnessed above, the grip for Penske and Chevrolet is getting stronger; however, at the same time, Honda’s challenge since winning the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato is slipping. Although some would view the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as a bigger prize than the national title, the pursuit of a single target as opposed to the full slate, could be a roadblock for Sato, Scott Dixon, and Graham Rahal’s hopes to claim the No. 1 for next year.

For the Japanese star, the next two events at Pocono and St. Louis have almost entered the must-win territory. Outside of the 500, Sato has only four other top-fives, plus seven runs of tenth or worse. If Honda Performance Development still holds the trump card on Chevrolet in the power department, it is time for Taku to play it.

The same scenario holds true for Dixon and Rahal. While Rahal has been one of the hottest drivers since Indy, finishing ninth or higher in the events since the Brickyard, the Ohioan is not yet in control of his destiny being 58 points out of first heading to the Pocono
500. Dixon, meanwhile, was regularly at the head of the standings for much of the year until his slip backwards began at Iowa. Since then, the Kiwi has placed eighth, tenth, and ninth since. Not overly disastrous, but costly considering Newgarden, Castroneves, and Pagenaud outran him in each of those same three races.

In summary, Pocono and St. Louis may be the last chance for a non-Penske pilot to take a significant stake in the hunt for the crown. Unless Honda’s big three can make a move, two of the three realities for the 2017 championship will be set in stone –  Roger Penske driver will win driving a Chevrolet. The only question then will be which one?

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY’S OUTLOOK: Penske Is Looking Toward The Future, Now.

There is a reason that Helio Castroneves may be leaving the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet after this season.

It is not due to diminished skills, the Brazilian’s triumph Sunday at the Iowa Corn 300 and his high placing on the current championship points table disposes of that theory. Yours truly thinks this is a move to bolster not only a new entity (IMSA sports car team), but also maintain a solid foundation on the other (IndyCar).

Team Penske’s return to the prototype ranks for the first time in nine years with Acura and ORECA has the chance to show the same muscle flexed during a three-year run with Porsche from 2006 to 2008. Recall that span resulted in class titles and an overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring in its final season.

The squad has one solid cog in the form of Juan Pablo Montoya, who in addition to winning the Indianapolis 500 twice, has done likewise at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Having already spent three years as a teammate to Castroneves, this increases the chances of a successful pairing in IMSA.

So what about the IndyCar operation? If Penske decreases its full season entry to just three cars, the organization enters 2018 still as a favorite. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden are all well within their prime years and should continue to contend for wins and a series crown next season. However, if the team remains at a quartet of participants, there is a bigger reason why the Captain may be making a move now.

For comparison purposes for those familiar with the NFL, Roger Penske’s philosophy is very similar to that of former San Francisco 49ers head coach and general manager Bill Walsh. Walsh was not a guy that looked at the current scenario to influence his transactions. The Super Bowl-winning manager always glanced two to three years down the road, and that’s what I feel the Captain is doing with the future of his IndyCar team.

At this time, there are a couple of notable IndyCar prospects who could become hot property during the upcoming silly season, based first on the situation involving Castroneves at Penske, but also the future of Tony Kanaan at Chip Ganassi Racing. TK, like Helio, is on the other side of 40, and his ability and desire to continue another season is a question mark. If both Brazilians are out of full-time service, the timing of the Penske to IMSA announcement could give the Captain and Tim Cindric the first choice of a replacement.

The two big fish to snap up appear to be in the back half of the grid. One is Carlos Munoz, who has suffered through a horrendous year at A.J. Foyt Racing. Of course, the Colombian had success at Andretti Autosport, keeping his value high. The other target could be Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones, the likely winner of the 2017 Rookie of the Year award. The Dubai-based pilot finished third at this year’s Indianapolis 500, but has had a bit of a trial by fire period as the team leader following the month of May accident to teammate Sebastien Bourdais. Joining a bigger group could ease the pressure on the former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion.

While replacing Castroneves may not be a favorable move in the short term, it could allow Penske to continue to dominate the IndyCar circuit for many years to come.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Memories: No Ride To Victory Lane

The 1987 Indianapolis 500 was an upset win, but not concerning the talent the eventual winner possessed.

Sure, Al Unser, Sr. had won at the Brickyard three times, but 30 years ago things were different. Despite winning the CART Championship in 1985, Roger Penske released Big Al after the 1986 season. With Unser out, the Captain filled his seat with veteran Danny Ongais. In addition to the inclusion of the Flyin’ Hawaiian, the squad chose to run its own chassis, the Penske PC-16. The in-house design coupled with a developing Chevrolet-Ilmor engine were off the pace when practice open.

One driver that figured out the new GM power plant is Newman-Haas Racing’s Mario Andretti. The 1969 winner is fast during the opening week and easily snatched the pole position.

Unable to post a competitive time with his own car, Roger Penske reverts to the familiar March chassis. Rick Mears immediately joins the chase upfront and qualifies on the outside of the front row. After a slow four-lap average with the PC-16, Sullivan also moves to the March and posts a safer speed. Ongais however, is unable to join in the party. The veteran crashes two days before Pole Day and suffers a concussion with doctors not clearing him to participate for the rest of the month.

With one place in his operation open, Penske calls on Unser, who has been on the sidelines for the first week supporting his son’s effort at Shierson Racing.

“Penske called me if I would run the car and I said, Heck yes, Unser told IMS Productions. “I didn’t have to take a second guess about it because that is a team capable of winning.”

Even the team owner understood the reasoning behind the three-time champion’s decision to wait for the best opportunity.

“The thing about Unser was he wasn’t going to drive anything that was not a decent car,” said Penske. “He would certainly be the first guy you would call.”

With the deal in place, there was still a problem  what car would Unser drive? Ongais had destroyed the PC-16, and the organization was low on Chevy engines. Penske did have access to another year-old March chassis that was equipped with a Cosworth engine, which was being utilized as a show car, on display in the lobby of a Sheraton hotel in Pennsylvania. After retrieving the machine and bringing it to Indianapolis, Unser qualified solidly on the second weekend in 20th.

Unser’s shot to win his fourth Indy 500 still seemed like a long shot when the green flag flew on race day, especially with the way Andretti was running. The No. 5 Hanna Auto Wash Chevrolet crushed the competition through the first 450 miles, leading 170 circuits and building a one-lap advantage on second-place Roberto Guerrero. As attrition began to eliminate the rest of the field, Unser quietly became a factor running a solid third.

Suddenly, Andretti’s car slowed to a halt with electrical problems ending his quest for a second Indy win. Guerrero took over first, but the Colombian required a splash of fuel to make the finish. When the Vince Granatelli Racing pilot completed his pit stop, he stalled out. and for a moment the No. 4 True Value Cosworth laid stranded on the pit lane with his crew not realizing the situation.

The two mishaps in only four laps  vaulted Big Al to the number one position with just 18 laps to go. Even a late caution period could not prevent the No. 25 Hertz Special from reaching the checkered flag first. Guerrero recovered from his pit road malady to take runner-up honors, while Italian newcomer Fabrizio Barbazza finished third to secure Rookie of the Year.

The victory allowed Unser to join A.J. Foyt as a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, a feat that would be repeated in 1991 when his Penske teammate Rick Mears outlasted Michael Andretti to win from the pole position.

“It’s nice to be able to win four, and I’m very grateful (of that),” said Unser. “(Indy) is hard, it has a finesse to it to where there are many excuses for being unable to win it, you are lucky to be able to win it once.”

Stay tuned to POPULAR SPEED during the month of May for more memories on the road to the 101st Indianapolis 500.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Newgarden Adds To Penske’s Juggernaut

While some will consider Josef Newgarden’s victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama as “lucky,” that may be too simple a view.

Although his Team Penske teammate Will Power was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop with 14 laps remaining, Newgarden applied pressure to the road racing ace and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series field all race long. After qualifying seventh, the Tennessee-native quickly gained ground in the opening stint, moving to second-place after the initial pit cycle.

A sign of a potential win developed during the second stint, when Newgarden held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on worn red tires. Even though Power dominated the laps led statistic at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday, the Australian never secured a comfortable advantage on his teammate.

Despite losing track position to Dixon during the final round of stops, Newgarden quickly regained second with a clever inside pass at Turn 16. Once Power was forced to give way, Newgarden once again dueled with the New Zealander, who despite holding a significant advantage in terms of push to pass time, was never able to mount a serious challenge to take away the top spot.

“This is a good one to have, I think we earned it,” said Newgarden, who won his first IndyCar race at Barber in 2015. “This was a great car this weekend. We were on it.

“I think it was shaping up to be a really great battle for me, Dixon and Will, and it ended just being between Dixon and me. I feel bad for Will. I wish he could have been in that with us, but sometimes that’s the way it rolls.”

With Newgarden securing his first IndyCar win with Team Penske in only his first third start, a feat defending series champion Simon Pagenaud could not achieve in 2015, the future outlook is intriguing.

“You certainly hope you can win early and win often,” said Newgarden. “I think my goal was to maximize our potential, my potential in the team as early as that could be.

“It’s not easy, you know, integrating into a new group. It’s been pretty fluid for me just because Team Penske is a very easy group to join, I find. They’re very open, welcoming, there’s so much information to look at, the teammates are so good, it helps you kind of get on pace pretty quick.”

With two of the next three IndyCar events on ovals, the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet certainly has a chance to add to his four career wins. The opportunity to contend for a championship is also added to the mix; Sunday’s triumph moved the Tennessean to third in the series points standings. It is not to say that the first American IndyCar driver for Team Penske since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2007 is destined to match or exceed the achievements of the greatest pilots the Captain has ever employed. But, the early success certainly is a promising trend.

The question regarding how good Team Penske is with Newgarden added was also answered on Sunday. Despite securing the top-three starting positions, it was Newgarden who secured the victory. Considering the former Sarah Fisher Racing prospect did not make the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday has to be a concerning sign for the rest of IndyCar’s lineup.

While it is not a lock that Team Penske will win 12 races as it did in 2016, it could become possible if Chevrolet can bridge a gap Honda showed at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. If this difference is lessened further or even flips in favor of the General Motors manufacturer by the Indianapolis 500, not only the 17th win for Roger Penske appears possible, it could be in the form this team showed in 1988 and 1994. In those years, victory was never in doubt; the only unknown was which driver would add his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Next week’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix could ultimately set the course for next month’s festivities. Another triumph could raise the likelihood of the above occurring not just for Josef Newgarden, but the other four Team Penske members who will be present at the Brickyard.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Roger Penske: The Garage is Jealous of Brad Keselowski

By Matt Weaver — Brad @Keselowski has come under much scrutiny and criticism during his brief career, most of it resulting from his candid and outspoken demeanor but also for outbursts like last weekend at Charlotte or his destructive feud with Carl Edwards in 2009 and 2010.

Keselowski says that he and teammate @JoeyLogano came up during an era where it was notoriously difficult for younger drivers to break into the sport and that his controversial edge was born of having to fight and claw to maintain his place in the Sprint Cup Series.

“Besides my teammate Joey Logano — what other drivers came from that era and were successful,” Keselowski asked. “There isn’t one. There’s not one that came through those four or five years and that is for good reason. They’ve been ran out of the sport and I’m not going to let that happen.”

As a result, Keselowski believes that his stance is going to continue to produce uncomfortable moments like last week at Charlotte when he scuffled with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin on and off the track following the conclusion of the Bank of America 500.

“Certainly there were some uncomfortable moments this week,” Keselowski said. “There’s been some uncomfortable moments in the past. I hope there’s not any more uncomfortable moments in the future, but there probably will be.”

Keselowski says that the controversy will likely continue until the old guard that was partially responsible for holding him back cycles out, leaving the new generation as the power-brokers in NASCAR. He says he has taken “solace” in that fact.

Team owner Roger Penske defended his 2012 champion, his personality and his struggle to earn respect, expressing that the garage is jealous of his recent success and that he didn’t blame Keselowski for his outburst at Charlotte a single bit.

“Number one, these guys are jealous of the job he’s done this year,” Penske said. “He’s won six races. He’s won poles and he’s been up front. Nobody likes to see a guy win like that. The fact that he has a little edge on him, he’s continually delivering, obviously I think that makes a difference.”

Penske, mild-mannered but fiercely competitive doesn’t want Keselowski to change.

“If everybody understood what happened on the racetrack last week, when you get your rear fender knocked off on a restart, you get your front fender knocked off on a pass-by, I want him to get mad. I don’t want him to take it.”

Keselowski is empowered by his support system, acknowledging that his team, Penske and crew chief Paul Wolfe has always been honest with him — be it positive or negative messages.

“I feel like I have a great group of people around me that are willing to tell me the inconvenient truth sometimes,” Keselowski said. “In this case the inconvenient truth would be if they felt I was wrong but the people around me weren’t saying that. That way, that feeling, those guys giving me the support that they did, helps me turn the page.”

And he turned the page into Victory Lane and the Eliminator Round.