Penske brings John Menard back to IndyCar for 10 races
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) The bright yellow paint scheme of Menards will be a familiar fixture in IndyCar next season as the home improvement store returns to the series with 10 races of sponsorship for Simon Pagenaud.
The deal with Team Penske announced Saturday gives Roger Penske three sponsored cars for next season, but ended no speculation about his IndyCar lineup.
Penske said he has the funding to field cars for Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves next season, but the status of Juan Pablo Montoya and a fourth Penske entry is undetermined. Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014 for Penske, but lost the championship in the season finale.
Penske said discussions regarding a fourth car are ongoing, and that he has not officially decided on bringing back the Colombian. The team owner also wouldn't discuss the potential to add American driver Josef Newgarden as the fourth Penske driver.
''He's not available, I don't think, right now,'' Penske said. When pressed, the team owner only said ''no comment.''
Newgarden doesn't become a free agent until the end of this month. Penske did reveal his IndyCar lineup will be determined within the next 60 days.
Meanwhile, the possibility exists that John Menard could ultimately move his sponsorship money in NASCAR over to Penske in the future, but it won't be immediate. Menard said his son, Paul, is signed to drive for Richard Childress Racing through 2017 in a deal that has been year-to-year for some time.
''Paul has a commitment with RCR next year, this doesn't affect any of our NASCAR relationships at all,'' John Menard said. ''This is a totally separate thing. We'll see how it goes. Paul has reached the stage of his career where he's got to start thinking about what he's going to do post-racing. When you hit 40 and have some kids, it changes your thinking on what your life journey is.''
Paul Menard, in his 10th full season at the Sprint Cup level, turned 36 last month. His father stressed that Paul Menard is not retiring from racing soon, but indicated he wouldn't mind having him return to Wisconsin to help with the chain, which spans 300 stores in 14 Midwestern states.
Make no mistake, though, racing is still very much part of John Menard's business and he's thrilled to be back in IndyCar. The billionaire was a team owner and sponsor in the series but walked away after the 2004 season to back his son in NASCAR.
John Menard was tired of open wheel racing, both emotionally and financially, when he pulled out and his return has been gradual. Menard came back in a three-race deal with Pagenaud that included 100th Indianapolis 500, and that deal grew to cover five races.
''I'm so glad to be back. There are certain aspects of this that are so fun, NASCAR is fun, too, but it's a lot more relentless. This is a little bit more breathing room,'' Menard said. ''I certainly found it's a lot more pleasurable to be part of Roger's team than it is to try to beat Roger's team.''
Pagenaud won one race with Menard sponsorship this season, and is on the verge of wrapping up his first IndyCar championship in Sunday's season finale. He takes a 43-point lead over teammate Will Power into the race.
''All of a sudden this gentleman from France just ignited the IndyCar racing world and took off and became a legend in his own time,'' Menard said of Pagenaud.