• 70°

Roger Penske caps banner season with NASCAR Hall induction

NASCAR roundup

FILE – In this Nov. 18, 2007, file photo, team owner Roger Penske walks along pit road before the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. Penske’s drivers swept all the races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his reward has been induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Penske will be honored Friday night along with Jeff Gordon, deceased drivers Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki and fellow team owner Jack Roush. (AP Photo/Paul Kizzle, File)

By Jenna Fryer

AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE (AP) — There was no need for Roger Penske to stay awake for Daytona’s 24-hour sports car race. Penske has people to do that for him, and hanging out atop a pit stand watching telemetry for two trips around the clock is slightly below his paygrade.

When he did it last year, Team Penske’s return season to sports cars racing, somebody had dared “The Captain” to hunker down for the entire Rolex 24 at Daytona. It was an impressive effort many who are far younger than Penske have failed to complete.

Once he had finished the first 24-hour race it seemed silly to do it again, particularly during the cold and blustery rainstorm that drowned Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.

But Penske had committed to be part of the team for the entire event and Team Penske, so organized and unflappable, had meticulously prepared for the conditions.

Penske’s transporter was stacked with thermal underwear — “I’ve got my ski stuff here,” he said — heavy water resistant coats and black beanies branded with the Penske mark. The pit stand had been renovated to create additional space so Penske didn’t have to sit all night, a lesson learned from last year’s race, and overhead heaters had been installed.

When the poor weather finally hit the speedway, the crew zipped clear flaps and enclosed the pit stand to escape the wind and torrential rain.

A month shy of his 82nd birthday, in the heaviest rain many racing veterans had ever seen, Penske pulled his beanie down low and hunkered down for an all-nighter.

“He doesn’t even want to sit down, he’s just standing there and it’s crazy,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, winner of the 16th of Penske’s record 17 Indianapolis 500 victories. “That’s why he’s the big man and we are not.”

His reasoning? Should he step away even briefly and one of his two cars had some sort of problem, Penske wanted to be present for problem-solving and strategic decisions.

“I could never do that, I could never stay up,” said Penske driver Ricky Taylor, who noted after the final practice session before the Rolex that Penske had noticed an irregularity on the track and found Taylor to show him where to avoid.

Helio Castroneves, winner of three Indy 500s for Penske, wasn’t at all surprised to see his boss there for the long haul.

“When you are passionate about racing like Roger, he has no reason not to be here for all of it,” Castroneves said. “And three-four hours is all he needs to charge his battery. He has a very quick charger.”

Penske had a sensible rebuttal for Castroneves’ claim that the boss rarely sleeps.

“Guess it all depends on if it is something worth staying awake for,” he said.

Next up is Penske’s Friday night induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 10th class, which was one of the most competitive elections in years. Jeff Gordon is the headliner , along with Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, drivers both killed in aviation accidents at the prime of their careers. Team owners Penske and Jack Roush, a pair of Detroit fixtures who intertwined their many business interests with the automotive industry and motorsports, were elected together.

“Listen I’m just glad they let guys in from the North,” Penske joked about his induction with Roush. Both team owners had been on the ballot several years before they were voted in last May, shortly before Will Power won Penske another Indy 500 title.

“For us going in with Jack, a Michigan guy like we are, a business owner like we are, it’s a big honor for the family, all the people before us who helped us open the doors, and I was surprised when I was picked. You never know when is the right time to go in — is it because of your age? What’s the right time?”

Penske was elected based on his entire body of work, even though this Hall of Fame is specific to NASCAR. The voting was done five days before the biggest Sunday in racing of the year. Penske started his day with four Chevrolets racing at Indianapolis, where Power won, then the action resumed in North Carolina at the Coca-Cola 600 with three Penske Fords and a fourth affiliated car in the field.

The election was one part of a season in which Penske won both the IndyCar races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NASCAR race at the Brickyard, the organization’s 500th overall victory and NASCAR’s cup title. Penske’s long-awaited return to sports car racing was completed last season with a two-car Acura effort, and Scott McLaughlin won the Virgin Australia Supercars title one week after Joey Logano’s surprise Cup championship.

Across all his platforms, it was the most consistent season for Penske, who in NASCAR now has two Cup titles and two Daytona 500 victories.

“It’s our 52nd year in racing and I guess it was time to make it all happen,” Penske said. “It was the culmination of all our hard work, and we’ve had great seasons and maybe just don’t get all the PR buzz down in NASCAR. Our guys have stayed under the radar, I guess except when our drivers get into a mess, but the NASCAR championship was really, really important that I get that done the year I go into the Hall because that validates and gives the team and me validation to be in the Hall.”

Penske leads by example with standards that require immaculate, crease-free uniforms and a commitment to excellence and professionalism. When Alexander Rossi was hired to join Penske’s Rolex lineup, he shaved his beard on his final day of Christmas vacation and arrived in Daytona with a clean face for the first time in years. No one told him to shave, he just assumed it was the Penske way of doing things.

The organization is indeed buttoned up to Penske’s preferences, but it’s not as straight-laced as outsiders perceive.

“He’s such a people person, he has such a charisma, everybody likes him, everybody wants to work for him and the way he runs the team is unbelievable,” Montoya said.

They understand Penske is the man they must please and that he prefers winning but mandates a standard of excellence to all his processes.

“His ability to lead by example is second to none. He doesn’t have to go in the locker room and give the big pep talk like other coaches and owners have to do in other sports. His presence is enough,” Logano said. “Everybody knows who they’re racing for, who they’re working for and what he expects out of you.”

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Comments

Crime

Man overdoses at Piedmont Correctional Institute

Crime

Sheriff’s Office: Two men escape from jail, found in bushes on Fulton Street

Ask Us

Ask Us: When will North Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue be resurfaced?

Local

Political Notebook: Rowan’s lawmakers pass 140 bills into the opposite chamber before deadline

Local

Police chief to present use of force policy; city manager to present 2021-22 budget

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on charges of felony larceny, possession of stolen vehicle

Coronavirus

CDC director says mask turnaround based solely on science

News

Catawba College hosts three in-person commencement ceremonies

Local

With high case loads causing numerous staff departures, Child Protective Services seeks more positions

Education

Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Coronavirus

Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline

Local

Spencer is latest town updating its development ordinance

Local

Salisbury native Kristy Woodson Harvey makes NY Times bestseller list

Local

Board of Commissioners will convene for third time in May

Business

Biz Roundup: Salisbury, Kannapolis among recipients of Region of Excellence Awards

Local

Cheerleading team competes at Disney

Education

Salisbury High to celebrate football, swimming champions with parade

High School

High school girls soccer: Isley, Webb lead all-county team

Local

Spencer awarded $10,000 to develop trails at Stanback Forest

Books

‘Tails and Tales’ coming to library this summer

Local

Public Records: March Deeds

Entertainment

Salisbury Symphony’s ‘Return to the Concert Hall’ available May 24-31

Coronavirus

Salisbury teen becomes one of first in age group to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Business

Local farm and creamery poised to add goat yoga, artisan goat cheese to offerings