LEEDS, Ala. -- As the IZOD IndyCar Series prepares for its second race of 2011, the most successful team owner in the sport's history is preparing for the future.
No team has a more glorious history than Team Penske. With 153 race wins, 12 National Championships, 196 poles and 15 Indianapolis 500 wins, Penske has been the standard-bearer for open-wheel racing.
But the team is more interested in its future than its past. Roger Penske was instrumental in bringing Chevrolet back to IndyCar and will be the primary team for the American automaker in 2012 as the cars and engines get a much-needed makeover.
"Chevrolet wants to have an engine running after midyear so by July we want to be running it on the track in car tests," Penske said. "They say what wins on Sunday sells on Monday so maybe we'll use that same theme moving forward. Having an American manufacturer to compete with Honda is good for the sport. Honda has done a terrific job. Chevy was here before when it was just the IRL (Indy Racing League) by itself. They are very committed to winning. That is going to bode well for us moving forward."
While INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard has tried to come up with innovative ideas to improve IndyCar's stature in the United States, Penske does not move in lock step to some of his proposals. Penske is supportive of Bernard's ideas but does not plan on entering a fourth car in the Indy 500's centennial race or an additional car to vie for the $5 million bonus at Las Vegas.
"We're helping the series out," Penske said. "We were instrumental in getting Chevrolet to come back in so if someone were to add up what we've done to support the league I would put my chips on the table and that would be equal or outweigh whether we run a car for the $5 million. There will be some great stories but it's important for us to win the championship. What's good about it is we have people talking about this series again. I think Randy has made a big difference with the sport. I told him before he took the job that this sport is different than putting a bull out in the ring because these bulls have managers and they have to meet certain technical specs."
While it would be easy for Penske to put former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish, Jr. in a car, there are no plans to do that.
"It is highly unlikely that we would do that," Penske said. "We are not going to run a fourth car at Indy, either. We've had a lot of people call us wanting to run a car but it's not something we want to do. If you are running for the championship and you have to worry about putting another car out there with someone else -- I'd much rather win the championship than the $5 million. There are other things we can do along the way to create more buzz. Some people might want to do it and if they do, that's fine. But we have not committed to running a car at this point. Anybody that comes in to run that one race with no testing will have a very tough time to compete. I look at it from a safety standpoint more than a competitive standpoint -- if you haven't been in one of these things and get to the last race on an oval that will be pretty difficult."
Team Penske heads to Barber Motorsports Park attempting to rebound from a disappointing performance in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, when two of its three drivers -- Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe -- were both involved in a multi-car crash in the first turn at the start of the race. Will Power finished second to race winner Dario Franchitti.
Penske carries tremendous clout with his opinions as a team owner in IndyCar and NASCAR. Here are a few of his thoughts:
"The 500 and the success we've had there have helped us build a brand for our business. We couldn't do it any other way during that time since we've been involved. The notoriety you get for winning that race. The ability to sell the sponsorship and the continuity you get has given us a tremendous opportunity. As far as the 100th, I look at everyone the same -- it's the one you want to win. No matter how times you've won you still have to line up and go again. We won the 50th running of the Daytona 500 so it would be a milestone if we had success this year. It's going to be pretty exciting. It will be a whole different feel. Ticket sales are up which means that event carries tremendous amount of weight. It's good to see this thing coming back and that is from the promotion of the 100th Anniversary."
"We have to realize that in today's economic environment people can't spend the money they were spending. When you look at the demographics of NASCAR and when you have a 160,000 seat stadium and you have 120,000 people there it looks like you are in trouble. I think the tracks have overbuilt a little bit and they are going to have to readjust the seating and sell some advertising. With 120,000 people it shouldn't look like you are in trouble. In the automotive business we are starting to see recovery. It's an indication that we are adding some people and adding some jobs. We are not back to pre-2008 yet but from the low point we are up 3-4 percent."
"I'm not sure of the details -- if we understood exactly what it was it might be something to do after we get qualified but I wouldn't want to do it before that. We have to be careful. We have good momentum for the series and we have to make sure the series doesn't overextend what we are doing. Look where we were several years ago and where we are today in a lousy economy. We have 26 cars and we are in a lot better position now than several years ago."
"There are so many Cup races today I'm not sure we need another one anywhere. The Montreal Nationwide race is great because it's a preview of the drivers and the track gets to see what it's like to run NASCAR cars instead of Formula One. But that is not up to me; it's up to the boys at Daytona."
"I've watched her run these last couple of races and going to Bristol the first time I thought she did a very good job. We have to give her credit. There is so much pressure on her. There are TV cameras on her every time she moves. I think she can win in IndyCar and she has. It's a decision she has to make. If she wants to win in NASCAR she is going to have to make a decision which way she goes. She has both circumstances now that she understands what is going on in NASCAR and she knows what goes on in IndyCar."