Indy 500: Penske going for Triple Crown
By Michael Marot
INDIANAPOLIS ó Roger Penske revolutionized the art of winning at Indianapolis.
A Memorial Day weekend victory celebration has practically become an annual rite for the 71-year-old team owner. After all, no owner has won more Indy titles (14) or Indy poles (14).
Now, nearly four decades after putting his first team together, Penske is determined to create a new measure of success ó winning the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in one season.
With a victory in today’s race, Penske would complete his personal triple crown, having already notched wins at Daytona and Sebring.
“It would be some kind of thrill,” Penske said Thursday. “To win all three would be the greatest achievement a team has ever made in one year.”
No. 15 would give Penske 300 career wins, not bad for a wealthy entrepreneur who once questioned whether he’d ever reach 100.
“Winning all the big races in America, that would be the ultimate dream,” said Helio Castroneves, who will start fourth Sunday. “I do feel we have the cars and drivers to win here, and we want to give that to Roger.”
Penske’s success on the track has come primarily because of his innovative, persistent, demanding approach, the same one that made him a billionaire. His empire now includes more than 300 car dealerships and a nationally recognizable fleet of yellow trucks that travel across American highways.
But it’s racing that made him famous, and almost every driver Penske has employed over the past two decades has sipped the milk at Indy.
“Yeah, the vast majority of them have (won),” said first-year Penske driver Ryan Briscoe, who will start third. “I’d like to be added to the list.”
Of Penske’s 14 Indy winners, only two ó Rick Mears and Castroneves ó have won multiple times. Mears is one of three four-time winners, and Castroneves pulled the rare back-to-back feat in 2001 and 2002. And Penske won once each with three different Unsers ó Al, Bobby and Al Jr.
The challenge is finding something Penske hasn’t accomplished as a team owner, a task team president Tim Cindric struggled with when he first joined Penske at Indy in 2001.
“I thought what could I possibly achieve with this team that he hasn’t already?” Cindric said. “Then we finished one-two (in 2003), which was something he had never done, and I thought ‘Wow, I never thought about that.”‘
Success in NASCAR is important, too, for the Penske team.
Penske started a NASCAR team in 1972, left after the ’77 season, reappeared briefly in ’80 and came back for good in 1991 with Rusty Wallace.
Wallace delivered 37 of his 55 career wins under the Penske banner and won at least one race in 16 consecutive seasons with the team before retiring in 2005.
This year’s lineup includes 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch; 2006 Indy winner Sam Hornish Jr., who has struggled making the switch from Penske’s IndyCar team; and Ryan Newman, who got Penske his first Daytona 500 win in 24 years of trying.
“Obviously, winning the Daytona 500 is a mountain we’ve been trying to climb for a number of years,” Penske said. “If we win all three, I would call it the triple crown, and what’s really impressive is that these are not sprint races, these are thinking races. To win with a Porsche against the Audis in Sebring was just amazing.”
Penske’s ALMS team includes promising young names, too. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard teamed up in the 12-hour endurance race to end Audi’s dominant run at Sebring, and Penske also has one of the best young American drivers in Patrick Long.
It’s been that kind of year, and it could only get better.
Castroneves narrowly leads the IRL points standings; and Bernhard and Dumas are atop the ALMS points. And in July, the team could be chasing a Penske Slam at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
“Winning Indy and Daytona in the same year is something we talk about, and the Brickyard is right there, too,” Cindric said. “Without a doubt, any time people are talking about things, it creates pressure, which is something you have to thrive on.”
Just how Penske likes it.