Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Opinion: Amidst IndyCar, IMS purchase, Roger Penske keeps eye on NASCAR prize, responsibilities – Indianapolis Star

Opinion: Amidst IndyCar, IMS purchase, Roger Penske keeps eye on NASCAR prize, responsibilities – Indianapolis Star
08 Nov

he Board of Directors of Hulman & Company announced today that it has entered into an agreement to be acquired by Penske Corporation. Clark Wade, Clark.Wade@Indystar.com

Roger Penske walked the grounds Tuesday of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. No word if he came across any puddles and glided over them.

The man has walked on water at Indy for decades, long before agreeing this week to purchase the most hallowed grounds in motorsports as well as the IndyCar Series.

When he arrives in the NASCAR garage this weekend in Arizona, he will be viewed as more than just a highly respected team owner and businessman who has built and overseen race tracks and also operates the Ilmor engine factory whose list of clients includes NASCAR’s regional and truck series.

“[The sale] caught everybody off-guard, but I don’t think it was a situation where anybody felt like it was a move backwards,” said former NASCAR and IndyCar champion Tony Stewart, who has a diverse portfolio of tracks, racing series and teams, including co-ownership of Stewart-Haas Racing in th Cup Series. “Roger has had race tracks before and Roger has a great vision for the future.

“I think we’re all extremely happy that if the Hulman-George family was going to sell it to anyone, that Roger Penske was probably that perfect guy to acquire it. … You couldn’t ask for somebody that understands motorsports better than Roger does.”

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney remain as the two Penske drivers among the six vying for the final two championship spots this weekend in the elimination race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC) ahead of next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Martin Truex Jr., of Joe Gibbs Racing, and Kevin Harvick, from Stewart-Haas, already clinched berths in the championship four with wins at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, respectively.

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While Penske would like to focus on his teams, wherever he goes, the questions will follow on the role he could play in NASCAR’s growth, including encouraging more drivers dabbling in both NASCAR and IndyCar and possibly both series running at the same place on the same weekend.

But Penske’s biggest NASCAR challenge is the Brickyard 400, which attracted packed crowds in the mid-2000s but has played recently in a cavernous facility thanks in part to a tire debacle in 2008, the challenge of stock cars producing good racing on the flat IMS track, the loss of Hoosier-bred NASCAR stars and an economy where fans chose tradition over the stock-car fad.

Penske said that the string of 27 years of Brickyard 400s (2020 will mark the 27th) must continue and “we’re going to get behind that in a big way.”

“They need to run at Indianapolis,” Penske said about NASCAR. “We want them to, and there’s no question that we’re going to look at opportunities to expand the relationship with them.”

NASCAR’s five-year sanctioning agreement with IMS runs through 2020, and there has been debate on whether a renewal would even benefit either side. The Brickyard’s 2020 date moves to July 4 weekend, fallout from NASCAR shifting its traditional Independence Day race at Daytona International Speedway to its final regular-season race in late August.

IMS brass have tried to put on a good smile, forecasting a holiday entertainment extravaganza that only a place such as Indianapolis could produce. But the decision slaps in the face the reasons for the move two years ago from late July to September – avoiding the summer heat and allowing for more promotion following the Indianapolis 500.


Penske wouldn’t rule out adding lights nor a potential IndyCar-NASCAR weekend doubleheader at IMS.

“We’ve got to break some glass on some of these things, don’t we?” Penske said. “We’ve got to try some of this. I’m prepared to take a risk.”

But where NASCAR lands on his priority list remains to be seen as Penske’s soul oozes IndyCar. Anyone around him in May at Indianapolis sees a bounce in his step and a professional exuberance that doesn’t match anywhere else. He has loved a role as a race strategist for one of his IndyCar drivers (he will relinquish those duties since he now owns the series), which required him to miss several NASCAR events.

Penske has seemed to cherish the NASCAR challenge as much as the racing, trying to muscle his way into championships that eluded him up until Brad Keselowski’s Cup title in 2012.

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NASCAR also has provided more key business-to-business opportunities. While Shell Pennzoil enjoyed Logano winning Penske’s second Cup title in 2018, it really enjoys selling gas and oil for Penske’s fleet of 244,000 trucks and using that fleet to experiment with products while Penske’s accountant glows over maybe the biggest of all corporate discounts.

His race teams – Penske employs more than 500 at his shop in North Carolina – won’t be an afterthought despite his recent purchase, Penske said.

“I’m committed 100 percent to our team,” he said.

At 82 years old, it is hard to determine how long Penske spearheads this new acquisition. Purchasing the speedway and IndyCar cements his legacy and in turn gives something his sons (led by Greg Penske) can build and grow to define their role in motorsports history.

The key: Whether they follow the Roger Penske path of being open to working improbable deals, such as nearly having Kyle Busch drive for him in the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a guy that is very, very smart and knows how to do a good job running businesses and he’s very savvy in all of that,” Busch said about Roger Penske. “I’m looking forward to whatever is at stake there, and I am sure it is all good.”

Bob Pockrass is a FOX Sports NASCAR reporter. Follow him @bobpockrass.

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Source: https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/motorsports/2019/11/07/roger-penske-nascar-indycar-indianapolis-motor-speedway/2514074001/


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