ATLANTA - Roger Penske, a successful car owner on the NASCAR and IRL circuits talked on Speed Channel's Wind Tunnel recently about the direction of his race teams, Toyota's presence in NASCAR and what's ahead for his teams on the Nextel Cup Series.
Question: You managed to sign Sam Hornish for the 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season. There was a lot of talk he may have been headed to NASCAR. What are your plans with him?
Penske: "Sam is a champion. He has certainly proved that on the track. I hope that our team can live up to giving him the equipment so that he can be an Indy 500 winner. There has been a lot of speculation about his going over to NASCAR. I will tell you, at this point, we have had a little bit of discussion about it, but there is no plan - short term or long term. Our real plan today is to see him compete and win another (IRL) championship and of course put an Indy 500 win in his career package."
Question: Can you talk about one of your drivers, Ryan Newman. Many say he reminds them of Mark Donohue? What do you think?
Penske: "Mark Donohue was really special. When we went to Indianapolis, they kidded us about being the college guys with the crew haircuts, but his technical approach proved a lot - I think that he had the best car and that's why he won a lot of races. When I compare him to Ryan (Newman) and Matt Borland and the team they put together, I think you have seen a great communication capability. It takes that kind of communication between the crew chief and the engineer and the team. Donohue really started that. Mark led our team in that direction. We were able to hire people who wanted to have a technical package with a team and provide that expertise. Donohue was really the spark plug. If you don't understand the car, I don't think your going to get in the winner's circle."
Question: Do you plan to return to Formula One?
Penske: "No, not really, Eddie Jordan talked to me really about Gil (de Ferran) and the fact that he might be interested in Formula One, but that was the only comment and maybe that was the tie-in (to rumors Penske was buying into Jordan Racing), but Gil obviously has not made that decision and will not be in Formula One. We have no interest to go back at this point."
Question: Are there any plans to start a third car for the Nextel Cup Series?
Penske: "There has been interest by our team to possibly look at a third car. Kodak has come back through and talked to four or five teams in Charlotte - they came to our shop and we made a proposal. So, at this particular time, we have interest, we have engine capability with our Penske Jasper program to bring another young driver in might be a real opportunity for us for next year."
Question: There has been some speculation linking your race teams with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan. Will you two team up in the future?
Penske: "Brendan is one of the young Dodge drivers and obviously with our relationship with Dodge with Rusty and Ryan, he could be a possibility. You have to decide, do you go with a young driver or do you go with a proven star that has been in NASCAR? At this point, we don't have an official announcement to make. Rumors seem to be the thing of the day when you're in auto racing, but there is a lot of water that has to go across the dam before we can make any formal announcement, I can assure you that."
Question: Toyota is coming to the truck series. You have Toyota engines on the IRL IndyCar Series. Can we read anything into that?
Penske: "As far as our team is concerned, we have a relationship with them in the IRL, we have a long-term contract with Dodge (in NASCAR) and, quite honestly, I haven't had any discussion as far as a Winston Cup car with Toyota. I know they are going in the trucks - we are not in the truck series - but they are going to be a formidable competitor, a fair competitor, and I hope to see them in because I think the more manufacturers coming in, with Pontiac dropping out, we don't want to see just one make out there running with all 43 cars the same. We have no plans because we have a long-term contract with Dodge and our drivers."
Question: Would you like to see other manufacturers coming into NASCAR?
Penske: "I would think you're going to see not only Honda but other manufacturers because of the success of the sport - it's a great place to showcase the technology and the performance, so let's hope four or five other manufacturers come in and make it a real race."