ROGER – NOT OVER, NOT OUT
uccess or failure can hang on the
tiniest of things. Take Homestead’s Sprint
Cup finale, where Joey Logano’s car falling
off its jack during a late stop might have
been the difference between Team
Penske celebrating a rare IndyCar/
NASCAR championship double in 2014.
It was a similar story in 2012, with
Brad Keselowski finally earning the team
the Sprint Cup title, only for the IndyCar
side of the equation to go awry when Will
Power hit a track seam in the title-decider.
Coming so close to capturing America’s
two biggest titles in the same season twice
is almost as impressive as actually doing it.
On the surface, the message seems clear:
Team Penske is “back.” But the question
is, did it ever leave in the first place?
Is there a race team anywhere on the
planet like Penske? It’s not just the history:
many teams have enjoyed success –
prolonged in some cases. Nor is it fastidious
attention to detail: the McLaren Formula 1
team has spotless trucks and its crew in
pressed shirts, too. Yet you only have to
recall the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix to
see how much McLaren could learn from
Penske regarding driver management.
Penske is unique in being a hugely
successful race team grounded in a cult
of personality. The guy with his name on
the side of the trailers is ranked by Forbes
around 360th on the list of the world’s
richest, but he’s also hands-on enough that
you’ll still spot him standing on the pit
wall on a Sunday afternoon at Mid-Ohio,
calculating whether or not to bring Helio
Castroneves in during the caution. And
his personal philosophy runs through the
team at a level that seems almost cellular.
Penske holds itself to a high standard,
and decades of sustained excellence have
led the rest of the sport to view it through
the same lens. On any given weekend, you
expect its drivers to be somewhere in the
hunt, somewhere near the sharp end, be
it in Indy cars or stock cars.
But definitions of what it means to be
“in the hunt” are sketchy. That long streak
of IndyCar title near-misses, finally broken
by Power this year, may be interpreted as
failure. However, no other team was
anywhere near as consistent a threat over
the same period. Ditto for the Indy 500:
it’s five years since Castroneves last drank
the milk but, viewed in isolation, that stat
ignores the fact that he only missed his
fourth Indy win by a blink in 2014.
“If I look at the Indy car program, there
was a time in the late ’90s when, honestly,
the Penske group was being questioned,”
He’s been there and
seen it all, and in
2014 Roger Penske
championship. In an
effort to not lose
momentum, he’ll be
adding a fourth car
to his IndyCar lineup
(RIGHT) next season.
With its first IndyCar Series title since 2006 and a
near-miss in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Roger Penske’s
eponymous team is once again U.S. racing’s benchmark.
WORDS Mark Glendenning MAIN IMAGE Michael Levitt/LAT