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Roger Penske was ready for his close-up in popular commercial

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MONTEREY, California – Roger Penske is the only team owner in auto racing history who has 18 “Baby Borg” Trophies in his possession for his team’s record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500.

Perhaps his next trophy should be an Emmy.

Penske took part in a commercial along with 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and one of his NASCAR Cup drivers, Ryan Blaney. The commercial was shot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 7 while NASCAR was in town for the Brickyard 400.

The premise of the commercials is a takeoff on the 2006 comedy, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” with Blaney playing the Ricky Bobby role and Pagenaud playing the Jean Girard role.

The commercial was shot by NBC to promote its coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and concludes with Penske stepping in between the two drivers, demanding them to, “Go out there and win races.”

Penske delivered the line perfectly and in just three takes.

“It took me about five minutes,” Penske told NBCSports.com. “They made it very easy for me. We let the guys do all of the hard work. It was fun for me to do. I saw it, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself.

“I’m ready for the next commercial.”

Penske’s ability to deliver his lines perfectly impressed NBC Sports Group President of Programing Jon Miller.

“I assume he’s got his SAG card,” Miller told NBCSports.com. “He has certainly been in front of the camera enough, and he’s quite an ambassador for the sport, so we were not at all surprised by that.”

NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood was also highly impressed with Penske’s ability to turn into an actor in front of the camera.

“We were thrilled that he agreed to do it,” Flood told NBC Sports.com. “It’s one of those special things and the kind of guy he is to jump on board and make it even bigger because we had a ‘Plan B’ if Roger couldn’t do it, and when we got the confirmation, we knew we had something special that was going to happen.

“Roger Penske did the ad with two of his drivers that we shot at the Brickyard last week that got out there. A lot of fun, a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past. I think that’s part of us leaning in as NBC in trying to grow all of motorsports, and it’s important that every form of racing gets attention, and that’s what we’re pushing, as you know all too well.”

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, who will take a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix, also was complimentary of his team owner.

“Wow, I was impressed,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “First of all, how did they get him to do a cameo? That was cool. And he nailed it.

“The pressure on Simon and Blaney to nail it, after Roger does it in only three takes? Wow, the pressure was really on them to deliver their lines.”

Pagenaud thought Penske’s first take was the best.

“It didn’t take long for Roger to deliver his line, he was on top of it,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com. “NBCSN was very excited about the idea. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made sure we were able to get into Gasoline Alley early that day. It was the Saturday of the Brickyard 400 and it was early, but Roger was probably up since 2 a.m. I’m sure, so it wasn’t early for him.

“It was good, the script was fun and well done. I forced my French and Blaney being the perfect American NASCAR driver and Roger just being himself was just perfect. It shows personality between NASCAR and INDYCAR. NBC is doing such a great job showing both fans on both sides what is going in and it helps everybody get interested in both sports.”

Penske was asked if that is how he normally talks to his drivers in a prerace situation to fire them up.

“That’s not the normal, daily message, but that’s how it helped those two guys get going,” Penske said. “I think NBC has done a great job in all cases on IndyCar. The continuity of having the same partner has made a huge difference. The talent knows the drivers. They know the situation. Guys like Paul Tracy and the experience of Leigh Diffey and the whole group has done a great job.

“It’s about good racing. We have good teams. Lots of competition, new drivers and date equity. And it’s attracting young people.”

Penske believes the addition of NBC Sports to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, including the season’s final race on the NBC, has been a big boost to the series.

“Any time you are on network is great,” Penske said. “It’s great for the sponsors, the notoriety for the team and the drivers is very important for all of us as we finish up the season. It’s going to be a great weekend, and I hope we can continue the movement we’ve had and the momentum we’ve had coming up to the last weekend.”

Clint Bowyer survives day of ‘high anxiety’ at The Brickyard

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INDIANAPOLIS – Clint Bowyer’s quest to get into the Cup Series playoffs was not as precarious as Ryan Newman’s, but he was a long way from being locked into the 15th position in the 16-driver playoff lineup entering Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

He still needed to finish ahead of the other drivers in contention for the playoffs including Newman, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson, who entered the race still eligible to get in on points, but realistically needed to win the race to clinch.

Bowyer improved his chances of making the playoffs dramatically by qualifying third fastest in Sunday morning’s Brickyard 400 qualifications.

The race, however, had more than its share of moments of “high anxiety” for the Stewart Haas Racing driver.

“You’re damn right I did,” Bowyer told NBC Sports on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “You knew it going in, you knew it was going to be high anxiety and it was going to be crazy like that.

“You don’t know where it’s going to be coming from. About the time we qualified good, I walked away from that car and knew the worst was yet to happen. The caution could come out at Lap 10 and present an opportunity for somebody and a mishap for somebody else.”

That happened throughout the race for Bowyer, who kept track of his competitors throughout the race and tried to manage his day.

In the closing stages of the contest, Bubba Wallace was in contention to sneak into the playoffs with a victory. He was running third, briefly made it up to second, before he was passed by Joey Logano for that position with the laps winding down.

The last thing Bowyer or Newman needed was a driver like Wallace to completely change the dynamic of the playoffs with an upset victory.

“I didn’t want to be anywhere around Bubba today,” Bowyer said. “I knew what he was racing for and what I was racing for and those two things didn’t match up today.

“I’m happy for Bubba, though. It was a great finish at a great race track for him. That’s a great finish for him and his team.”

Wallace would finish third, behind race winner Kevin Harvick and second place Logano. William Bryon finished fourth and Bowyer’s fifth-place finish was more than enough to lock him into the playoffs.

He became the third driver in the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing team to make the 16-driver lineup for the playoffs. Daniel Suarez was still in competition, entering the race tied in points with Newman, but his 11th-place finish combined with Newman’s eighth place eliminated the driver from Mexico.

“It was super close to getting all four in,” Bowyer said. “We’ve got to keep building, man. We’re working hard and digging and trying to get better.

“We aren’t the fastest group. We know that. But we looked pretty damn fast today.”

Bowyer’s road to that top-five finish was eventful to say the least.

“It was going to be chaotic, I said that before the race, it was going to be an emotional roller-coaster,” Bowyer said. “The 6 car (Newman) was able to stay out there and capitalize on that and get those five points on us.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I didn’t need that.’

“But we got it back in the second stage. It was identical. I finished fifth and he finished 11th in that stage and he handed it right back to us.

“We were faster than we ran. I think we were a top-five car, but we were just trying to survive. We needed to survive this thing and it was going to be a war of attrition and we survived.”

Making the playoffs is important, but it doesn’t beat winning, according to Bowyer.

“Winning is everything,” Bowyer said. “That’s why we get up in the morning, to go win. There is nothing better than winning. I’m looking forward to some of those tracks. I should have won at Richmond earlier this year.

“I still think about that race and how easy our season would have been if I had won it earlier.”

Now, it’s off to the playoffs and Bowyer is excited his team’s recent surge. Since finishing 37th at Michigan in August, Bowyer has finished seventh at Bristol, sixth at Darlington and fifth at Indianapolis.

“We’ve got 10 races in the playoffs and the last three races have been single-digit finishes for us,” Bowyer said. “That will get you around. It also builds confidence and momentum with our race team. That is what it takes.

“We are finally doing the right things, putting ourselves in the right situations to capitalize on other people’s mishaps rather than being the one to make the mishap and having someone capitalize on us.”

Ryan Newman keeps his cool to be last man in for Cup playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS – For Ryan Newman, it was a day of racing on the edge. Tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final position in NASCAR’s Cup Series playoffs, the Roush Fenway Racing driver knew Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was going to be a day where he couldn’t relax for a second.

Several times, when his Ford was being pushed down the straightaway by another car, Newman told NBC Sports that he was a correction or two from putting his No. 6 Ford into the fence.

“It was close calls all the time,” Newman said.

He started 22nd and had to race his way into contention if he was going to have any hope of making the field of 16 that begins the playoffs next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Newman would climb as high as sixth, then drop to as low as 13th. He dodged a major crash that ended Jimmie Johnson’s playoff chances in Turn 2 on Lap 105 and was able to forge ahead.

With Suarez far behind in Newman’s rear-view mirror in 11th place, Newman was able to clinch the playoff position when he crossed the famed “Yard of Bricks” in sixth place.

“I was pretty tickled,” Greg Newman, Ryan’s father, told NBC Sports. “I spotted for him in Turn 3 and at the end of the race my remark was, ‘We finally put the cat back in the hat.’

“I’m pretty proud of that.”

Now that the “cat is back in the hat,” Newman can finally relax, at least for the rest of Sunday night.

“It’s a huge relief,” Ryan Newman told NBC Sports. “It took 26 races to get here. You go back and look at what we did at Daytona to stay on the lead lap and finish that race with a flat left-front tire and the nose knocked off and everything else. Every point to this point made something and it made something out of our season because making the playoffs is a big deal.”

The long, hard struggle of the 26-race regular season where drivers have to fight and gouge for every point available, Newman’s team has improved throughout the season.

Late in the race, however, came a driver that nobody had considered in the championship discussion entering the race. It was Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Chevrolet.

Wallace briefly raced his way to second place with the laps winding down, before Joey Logano took that position.

“I was pretty confident Kevin Harvick had a really good car and Kevin Harvick had a little left in the bag,” Newman said when asked about Wallace.

Kevin Harvick won his second Brickyard 400 by starting on the pole and leading the most laps (118) in the race. He also won the 2003 Brickyard 400 when he started on the pole.

Harvick was able to keep his cool by dominating the race. Further back, however, drivers like Newman were experiencing the heat of the moment.

“I don’t know if I kept my cool all day, but I kept it out of the fence when I very easily could have plowed the fence down,” Newman said. “In dirty air, I was as tight as anybody out there.

“It was a struggle a lot of times. At the end of the first stage, I had a lot of confidence. At the end of the second stage, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. We just stuck our nose to the grindstone.”

Newman was able to keep his nose clean; Suarez did not.

He brushed the wall on Lap 11 to bring out the first yellow flag of the race and his Ford sustained right-side damage.

His crew made repairs and Suarez gave it an effort, but 11th place was probably the most he could have gotten out of his damaged car.

“The 41 (Suarez) kind of got himself in a pickle there, and we were able to hold him off,” Newman said. “That was part of the race. The other part of the race was that we didn’t have a fast-enough race car to go up there and lead, and we got to be able to do that for these next three races.

“Guys were running out of talent. Guys have to control their race car. Just like usual here, you see stuff happen on pit road that you don’t see elsewhere because it’s pretty unique.

“What happens, happens,” Newman said. “When you put yourself in a bad position, sometimes bad things happen.”

“Oh, it’s huge, and my car was probably one of the worst in traffic for getting tight,” Newman said. “I was really struggling with that. I had to almost give up to let the guy in front of me get away so that I could actually run fast and try to keep the guy behind me. It’s a horrible way to try to race and be defensive, but it’s kind of what I had to do.”

Now that Newman and Roush Fenway Racing have made the playoff field, they want to prove they belong there.

Sunday’s race was simply a first step toward a greater goal.

“We’re continuing to go, today was another stepping stone,” Newman said to a group of reporters on pit road after the race. “No matter what everybody else does, we have three races to prove today is no spoof. A lot of guys ran out of talent.

“I saw a lot of guys losing control of their car all by themselves. We just have to take these next three races to the best of our abilities and move on.”

Newman believes his team has to improve its speed. More importantly, it has to get some checkered flags over the final 10 races.

“We have to win,” he said. “We really have to win. We don’t have any points. Some of these guys have 20 or 30 points on us and we have none. Winning, that’s the whole goal.

“We have to do everything we can, do everything possible, to keep progressing our team. We might get knocked out. We might prove come Homestead that we could have won it if we were in it.

“I just want to stay focused and do our thing.”

At the front of the field, greatness was on display in the No. 4 Ford driven by Harvick. He set a standard Newman wants to achieve.

“Making the playoffs for Roush Fenway Racing is good, but good is not good enough, we have to be great,” Newman said. “Harvick proved today what great is. He won the pole, led the most laps and won the race.

“I’ve been there. I want to get back to there.”

Kevin Harvick wins Cup pole for today’s Brickyard 400

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INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Harvick, the 2003 Brickyard 400 winner, scored his third career pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday morning. Harvick went out early and ran a fast lap of 185.766 mph in the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Clean air will be huge,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “I thought we had a fast car (Saturday) in race practice. Clean air and strategy are important because handling will come into play at some point. You will have to hang on to them at the beginning of the run so there are a number of things having to come into play.

“Hopefully, today, we can finish where we start.”

Paul Menard’s No. 21 Ford was second at 185.724 mph followed by one of the drivers fighting to stay in the playoffs, Clint Bowyer. His No. 14 Ford turned in a lap at 185.277 mph. He was followed by Joey Logano’s Ford at 184.193 mph and four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson, who is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, at 185.181 mph.

Click here for qualifying results

Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson are vying for the final two playoff spots. Bowyer is eight points ahead of Suarez and Newman. Those two are tied with Suarez holding the tiebreaker. Johnson is 18 points behind Suarez and Newman.

Newman went out early in the session, where three cars were on the 2.5-mile oval at the same time. Newman’s No. 6 Ford clocked in with a speed at 183.273 mph and will start 22nd.

Suarez qualified 20th at 183.643 mph.

William Byron, Jr. entered qualifications as the pole winner for this year’s Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. A Brickyard 400 pole would have made Byron the first driver in NASCAR history to win the pole at all of the “Crown Jewel” events in the Monster Energy Cup Series in the same season.

His speed of 182.043 mph in the No. 24 Chevrolet put him 29thon the starting grid.

This is the only event of the season where qualifications are held the morning of the race. The green flag of the 26thannual NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is 2:05 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Indy 500 should never have guaranteed starting positions

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INDIANAPOLIS – Like many viewers watching last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 “Bump Day” on NBC, former NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was captivated by the drama.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedule

He also believes INDYCAR should not follow NASCAR’s path of “Chartered Teams” locking up positions in the major races; such as the Daytona 500. That has taken away the excitement and drama of the Daytona Duels.

“Not trying to get myself in the weeds here, but I think Indy could look at the history of NASCAR and how it has changed the excitement for some of the Duels and qualifying,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports.com. “I would not go in that direction. If I was in control of things, I would not pull those levers to have guaranteed spots. The thrill of Bump Day and the battle for the final row, increased the value of Sunday and viewership for Sunday. It taught people about other drivers and teams. We don’t learn those things if you don’t see them going through that battle and experience.

“I thought it was a tremendous win for the people that want to keep things at Indy as they are.”

Earnhardt, who is part of NBC’s crew for Sunday’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, believes the way it all played out created a storyline that enhances the interest in the 500-Mile Race.

“I experienced the drama before with Bump Day that has happened here in this race in the past, but I thought it was symbolic with the conversation going on about guaranteed spots,” Earnhardt said. “For the folks who are the traditionalists who believe you have to earn your way in, it was a great day for those folks and their argument. Fernando Alonso and how that story played out and his reaction to not making it, I thought he handled it like the champion he is. All of that was interesting.

“The little teams beating the big teams was pretty cool. It created some really exciting stuff and did nothing but build excitement in the race.

“Even though Alonso is not in the race, I’m just as interested, or more interested, than I was before. Them not being in the race didn’t change it for me. If anything, that whole drama and how it played out made me more excited to see the event.”

Earnhardt is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in person. He will be part of NBC’s Indianapolis 500 Pre-race show along with Mike Tirico and 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt will also drive the Pace Car to lead the 33-car starting lineup to the green flag to start the 103rdIndianapolis 500. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.