CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Fortunes turn fast in racing. Roger Penske knows that well.
In an emotional 24-hour span, his bid to win the IndyCar championship came up just short – again – when points leader Will Power crashed early in the finale. It made Penske a runner-up in the IndyCar final standings for a third consecutive year, and the fourth time since Penske Racing’s last title in 2006.
Penske left California disappointed, but not defeated. He was rewarded the next day when Brad Keselowski won the opening race of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I guess the first thing is that after last night at California Speedway, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came here,” Penske said after Keselowski’s win on Sunday. “It’s a great day for us. It cools me down a little bit after being hot last night.”
Keselowski’s win at Chicagoland made the third-year Penske driver the Sprint Cup points leader for the first time in his career, and reaffirmed that The Captain may actually have a shot at a NASCAR championship this year.
It’s the one crown that has eluded Penske. He has 15 Indianapolis 500 wins and 12 open-wheel championships. But in 29 years in NASCAR, Penske has never claimed the spot on the stage at the end of the season.
Then along came Keselowski, who was unapologetic about his brash driving style or his big mouth. He says what he believes, races to win and doesn’t let much stand in his way.
So even though he had a good gig in the Hendrick Motorsports pipeline, waiting in the wings at NASCAR’s top organization wasn’t good enough.
Penske recalled speaking to Keselowski when the driver was still under contract to Hendrick.
“He came by to see us and he said that he’d like to come and race for our team. But he couldn’t do it, he had a commitment,” Penske said. “But he said, ‘When I do come, I want to help build a team to win the championship.’ I think he’s never forgotten that.”
Keselowski, aware of the standard Penske Racing has set in IndyCar, is determined to take the organization to that same level in NASCAR.
“I really believe in the process that we have going forward, and bringing on Joey (Logano) is certainly one piece of that,” he said. “I feel like Penske Racing is putting itself in a position to be a team that can win multiple titles over the next few years and to be the elite team, elite company it’s capable of being across the field in NASCAR.”