News & Media

Penske close to adding another auto-racing trophy

November 16, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- With 23 auto-racing championships and 15 Indianapolis 500 triumphs, it surprises many race fans that there is still an open space on team owner Roger Penske's mantle for a Sprint Cup Championship trophy.

While he's collected IndyCar and sports-car titles left and right, the legendary owner has only come "close" in stock car racing's marquee circuit -- the closest in 1993 when NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace nearly nabbed one for Penske, but finished runner-up despite a series-best 10 wins.

"Roger is such a respected dude, everyone in the industry wants to see him win that thing."



Penske Racing

Cup wins by driver
Ryan Newman13
Kurt Busch10
Brad Keselowski8
Bobby Allison4
Mark Donohue1

But many -- including both Penske and Wallace -- consider this weekend Penske's best shot at hoisting NASCAR's most valuable hardware, thanks to Penske driver Brad Keselowski's 20-point cushion atop the standings entering Sunday's EcoBoost 400 season finale.

What started in 1972, when Penske fielded an AMC Matador for that year's Indy 500 winning driver Mark Donohue in a NASCAR road-course race, could culminate now with the 28-year old techno, wonder-kid Keselowski, who made national headlines by tweeting photos from his cellphone inside his race car at this year's Daytona 500.

As impressed as people are with Keselowski's effort in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge -- including a career best five wins -- a championship for Penske would be among the most popular in recent memory.

"People want to see the No. 2 car win it, but they want it for Roger,'' said Wallace, now a commentator for ESPN. "Brad's doing a great job, he's a young kid and he deserves it because he's doing a good job driving that car. But the car has tried so many times to win a title and not got it done.

"Roger is such a respected dude, everyone in the industry wants to see him win that thing."

None more so than the 75-year old Penske himself -- even if he plays it close to the vest.

"I think I'm a goal-oriented person and there's no question that winning a NASCAR championship at the elite level is something that everybody in racing want so accomplish and we haven't done that,'' Penske said Friday. "I think we spread ourselves through many different series with great success, but we've never quite gotten to the top obviously.''

And that's been an anomaly for Penske considering his high standards and high achievements in both business and his other racing ventures. His name is synonomous with winning. It's just taken a little longer in stock cars.

He credits an improved focus on engineering, the move to a two-car team and the addition of Keselowski for making the difference.

"The business was a lot different in the 1990s, I think it's a multitude of things have made a difference,'' Penske said.

Penske Racing is just superstitious enough to have Roger's wife Kathy sit atop Keselowski's pit box because, for whatever reason, he has had good results when she is there.

And while Keselowski has been all smiles and especially upbeat since arriving at Homestead Miami Speedway this week, no team official will even discuss any possible championship party plans for fear of jinxing the outcome.

"When you look at our company's motivation right now, it's kind of above the personal agendas of everyone -- and that's really cool,'' said Penske Racing's director of competition, Travis Geisler. "Obviously it's very important to all of us to win a championship. There are a lot of us at Penske Racing who have never won one. But above and beyond all of our goals, it's Roger's championship that we're trying to get.

"If you can imagine a way to do something, he always seems to think of a way that's just a little bit better. When you're an owner who is like that and treats his people the way that he does -- and all of us feel Roger does things first class and takes care of his people -- you want to give him perhaps the one thing he doesn't have.

"There are not a lot of things left on his to-do list, so we're certainly all proud to be in position to hopefully get that accomplished.''

The billionaire Penske, despite his lofty status in the business world and his legendary status in the racing world, sounds even a bit humble when talking about his place in NASCAR.

"When you're racing, I call it the gold standard, the best in the business. Rick Hendrick is a great friend of mine and I have a lot of respect for him both on the business die and certain on the racing side,'' Penske said. "And [Jimmie] Johnson is a cool cat, he knows how to get I done. He's gotten it done five times.

"So just being in the league with them, it's the final day, you're teeing up the last 18 and we're in the same foursome, so that's a pretty good day.''

Or as Penske's always-ebullient three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves puts it, "It could be a really great Christmas party.''