Column: Roger Penske remains captain of motorsports
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Somewhat overshadowed by the stifling scrutiny of NASCAR’s new rules package was another Team Penske victory. Joey Logano held off teammate Brad Keselowski’s last-lap push to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway — the fourth victory for a Roger Penske car in seven days.
Keselowski and Logano drove Ford’s new Mustang to consecutive Cup victories the last two weeks, while in Australia reigning Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin swept the weekend in the debut of that new version of the Mustang.
It’s quite a start for Penske, who last month was inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, feted at the Royal Automobile Club in London and celebrated his 82nd birthday. Penske in January hunkered down for the entire Rolex 24 at Daytona, where one of his two Acura entries pulled out a third-place finish.
Penske will spend this week chairing the Penske Corp., his privately held transportation services company ahead of the IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. He will have three Chevrolets in the race, all piloted by championship-contending drivers.
The Penske wave of success is a continuation from last year when the organization celebrated its 500th overall win, Logano won the Cup championship , McLaughlin won the Supercars title and Will Power was Penske’s 17th Indianapolis 500 winner.
At a time when the value of motorsports is constantly questioned — the overall spend by teams, resources for technology and development, sponsorship budgets and marketing plans — Penske consistently gets the most bang for the buck. “The Captain” is one of the most important figures in North American racing and his unwavering support and commitment is a steadying force during tumultuous times.
Penske has been a consistent public supporter of NASCAR’s new rules package, which made its full debut Sunday at Las Vegas. NASCAR believes the new rules will make for better racing, though teams still don’t know how it will play out over an entire season. Fans have been essentially promised it will, at minimum, make for a more entertaining show.
The new rules have been received as both polarizing and promising, but Penske has been one of the most important backers of NASCAR’s direction.
“We all have a tendency to do what’s best for us, and at the end of the day we’ve got to think about what’s best for the company,” Penske said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “And my dad told me a long time ago if you’re always thinking about what’s best for you, your company is never going to get there. Your decisions are based on what’s best for the company, best for the industry, best for NASCAR.”
His opinion has been validated with two wins in the two races with the new competition package. The victories for Logano and Keselowski gave Penske the early edge in the Ford camp and the first celebrations with the Mustang. It also gave Penske another opportunity to prove he believes in letting his drivers race each other on the very edge when the checkered flag is on the line.
Logano and Keselowski raced more like rivals than teammates over the final lap at Las Vegas and that intense finish helped NASCAR tout Sunday as a success. But they would not have raced each other so hard if the boss doesn’t approve, and Penske’s philosophy was for the betterment of the overall product.
“I really don’t have any favorites,” he said. “Only one is going to win coming out of the stable. We’ve really told them to take care of each other, at the end of 10 laps the best man wins.”
Penske plans to be in St. Pete this weekend, thoroughly invested in Power, Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and the IndyCar effort. Televisions placed throughout his at-track office will be tuned to the NASCAR events in Phoenix, and his executive team will have him briefed on every important development.
Racing at nearly every level is weathering a reset and searching for solid footing in a crowded sports and entertainment space. The rebuilding period has been trying for the entire motorsports industry, but so long as Penske is still firmly on board, the fight still has significant value.