Indianapolis 500

IMS president discusses possibly lighting historic track under Penske leadership

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Track president Doug Boles and Roger Penske were a part of a group that walked the grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday until they couldn’t.

They simply ran out of light at the historic 2.5-mile track.

“We didn’t leave last night until it got too dark to see in some of the buildings that we’ve turned the power off in different places around the facility (to save money),” Boles said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “(Penske) finally said, ‘OK, we’ve had enough, that’s great.'”

Penske’s group, which was touring the facility the racing legend will soon own pending government approval, could have kept going if the track had lights to brighten the facility for night racing and other events.

The prospect of lighting the track – which hosts the Indianapolis 500 in May and the Brickyard 400 on July 5 next year – has picked up buzz since it was announced Monday that Penske would purchase the track, IndyCar and IMS Productions from Hulman & Company.

MORE: Penske bullish on Brickyard 400, NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheaders

But Boles told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio the idea of equipping the 108-year old track with lights is not a new one.

“I’ve been there for nine years and I’ve been in this position for six, and over the last several years … we’ve often talked about things we could do to invest and make this (track) way better,” Boles said.

“Lights are one that we’ve had a serious conversations about. But we’ve never really been able to sit down and think about, ‘Ok, does this make sense? How can you invest this and really make it pay off?’ Or how can we look at it and say ‘This is what the investment would be and there’s no way that it ever pays off. So let’s move on.’ Having Roger Penske, the Penske organization, the deep bench that they have to help you understand, look at data, understand how you get from Point A to Point B or how you say, ‘Look, we don’t want to go from Point A to Point B because it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to pivot.’

“That’s what he brings.”

Boles further discussed the “fiscal impact” of lights at IMS.

“There’s ROI (Rate of Investment) impact,” Boles said. “If you invest $20 plus million dollars in lights at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, how long does it take to pay that off? Not only is Roger passionate about motorsports. He’s a great businessman and he’s going to make an investment that makes sense for everything. So we have a lot to look at. I think that’s something we’ll definitely keep looking at and his team will keep looking at and we’ll see where it goes.”

Boles said any plans for lights would face “a hurdle” with the community in Speedway, Indiana. But Boles said it would really be a hurdle if “we started thinking about an endurance race.”

“The nice thing about our community though is Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in a corn field and the neighborhood has come up around it,” Boles continued. “Most of the people that live in and around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway live there because they love it. So we have a base there that wants to be supportive of any of our events.”

Part of early discussions about lights have even included an analysis from Musco Lighting, a company responsible for installing lights at race tracks and other sporting facilities.

“Musco’s really helped us understand what it would cost to light not just the race track, but the rest of the facility,” Boles told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So (we’re) walking through those studies at a really high level with Roger and his team so at least that seed he’s sort of planted in the announcement, he can start beginning to look at and decide if it’s something we should move forward with.”

Roger Penske to purchase IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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Roger Penske will soon own IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The development was revealed Monday morning by the track. The Board of Directors of Hulman & Company will announce later this morning the sale of the company and certain subsidiaries, including IndyCar, the historic speedway and IMS Productions to the Penske Entertainment Corp., a subsidiary of Penske Corporation.

The transaction will close following receipt of applicable government approvals and other standard conditions.

Roger Penske is the owner of Team Penske, which fields teams in IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA.

Penske is the winningest owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18 victories, including this year with Simon Pagenaud. He won the 2018 Brickyard 400 with Brad Keselowski.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of three tracks the Cup Series competes on that is owned independently from NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. The others are Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway.

“We recently approached Roger Penske and Penske Corporation about this opportunity and began working to put an agreement in place,” said Tony George, Chairman of Hulman & Company, in a press release. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the centerpiece and the cathedral of motorsports since 1909 and the Hulman-George family has proudly served as the steward of this great institution for more than 70 years. Now, we are honored to pass the torch to Roger Penske and Penske Corporation, as they become just the fourth owner of the iconic Speedway. There is no one more capable and qualified than Roger and his organization to lead the sport of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway into the future.”

Said Penske: “My passion for racing began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1951 when I attended the Indianapolis 500 with my father. We have so much respect and appreciation for the history and tradition of the Speedway and the sport of IndyCar racing. I want to thank Hulman & Company for the opportunity to build on this legacy and it will be an honor for Penske Corporation to help lead these great institutions forward into a new era.”

Said Mark Miles, President and CEO of Hulman & Company: “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and the NTT IndyCar Series have enjoyed considerable growth over the past decade, with significant increases in television, digital and social media audiences combined with record attendance at many of our race venues. With their track record of business success, their venue, operation and event experience and their passion for motorsports, Roger Penske and Penske Corporation will help us take the IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of our properties to new heights. Everyone on our team looks forward to working with them to capitalize on the momentum that the Series and the Speedway have achieved.”

NASCAR released the following statement from Chairman and CEO Jim France.

“The Hulman-George family has been instrumental in the growth of motorsports through their passion for racing, elevating Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series to a global scale, and we thank them for their leadership and significant contributions to NASCAR. Roger Penske is incredibly accomplished across both motorsports and business and we look forward to the successful operation of these properties under his experienced leadership.”

Kurt Busch eyes racing in Cup through 2021, another IndyCar effort

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kurt Busch said talks are progressing with Chip Ganassi Racing on a contract extension and that he also has talked with the team about possibly running another IndyCar race.

Busch, who signed a one-year contract with the Ganassi before this season, said he’s excited about the Next Gen car in Cup that will debut in 2021 and that driving that car is “part of my decision-making with trying to extend my contract with Ganassi.”

The 2004 Cup champion said talks with the team are “headed in a good direction.”

Busch also said that “some of my talks with Ganassi are about an IndyCar.”

He was the 2014 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing sixth for Andretti Autosport. Busch also noted that with talk of a possible IndyCar/NASCAR weekend in the future, he would be interested in running that IndyCar race, depending on where it would be.

Chip Ganassi Racing is scheduled to field full-time IndyCar entries in 2020 for Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson.

Busch, 41, isn’t the only Cup driver who is interested in driving an IndyCar at some point. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has expressed an interest in running an IndyCar on a road course. Kyle Busch also has expressed an interest in running an IndyCar.

Will Team Hendrick steal the show at the Brickyard?

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If there ever was a good place for Jimmie Johnson to break his 84-race winless streak, or for young teammate William Byron to earn his first career NASCAR Cup win, it’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend.

Say what you want about Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance this season, the 2.5-mile Brickyard has definitely been a Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports track.

In the 25 prior editions of the Brickyard 400, Chevy has won 17 times, with 10 of those coming from Hendrick drivers: five by Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, four by Johnson and one by Kasey Kahne, who won in 2017. That equals 40% of all Brickyard 400 races since the first in 1994 (won by Gordon). No other Cup team has more than five total wins in Indy (Joe Gibbs Racing).

Indianapolis is one of 13 NASCAR tracks where HMS has reached 10 wins. In addition, three different HMS drivers have won three of the last seven editions of the 400. And over the 25-year history, of 94 collective starts in the Brickyard by all HMS drivers, nearly half – 40 – have ended up with top-10 finishes.

To extrapolate that even further, Hendrick Motorsports has never gone more than three years without a Brickyard win in the quarter-century existence of the 400-mile race there.

While Johnson needs no additional motivation to do well Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC) to assure he makes the playoffs, here’s a few other facts the driver of the No. 48 Chevy should keep in mind:

* The winner of the 400 has gone on to win the championship nine times in that same season: Johnson three times; Jeff Gordon twice; Kyle Busch, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart once.

* Of the seven Cup championships Johnson has earned in his career, he went on to win the title in three of the four years he won at Indianapolis.

Given that Sunday is the final race of the 26-race regular season and will finalize the 16-driver field for the Cup playoffs, Hendrick Motorsports is sitting pretty coming in with three of its four drivers already qualified for the post-season: Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman.

“We go to a lot of places that we are really strong at and there are a lot of good tracks for us in the playoffs,” Bowman said. “We have a lot of work to do I think, but I think the tracks that suit us can be very good. Starting at a place like Vegas, going back to Kansas and Dover, we are going to a lot of tracks that are good for us so we should be really strong. I think a lot of it is building momentum these two weeks after the off weekend.”

Added Elliott: “Our number one goal is to get better at Indy and run better more consistently. That’s the main goal. It is such a special place that we want to run well. You want to run well everywhere you go, but especially at Indy.”

Johnson, who is 18 points out of the final  playoff spot, is the only Hendrick driver who remains uncertain to make the playoffs. If he does not, it would mark the first time in his career that he missed a chance for the championship.

No one has to tell him what’s at stake Sunday.

“We are running out of days and if we miss it, it’s just going to be by a few I believe,” Johnson said. “If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. So, it’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indy. But it is what it is and we are going to go there to win a race.”

That may be the only way to assure his playoff streak continues.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Friday 5: To each their own on celebrating wins

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So many options. So much excitement. What to do?

Should a race winner do donuts? Should they do a reverse victory lap? Or a bow? Or climb a fence? Or the latest, offer a hug.

Just as there are different ways to enjoy a NASCAR win, drivers also have distinct opinions on how to celebrate those accomplishments.

I don’t go too over the top, but we sure do like to hang around the track for a long time and we really don’t ever want to leave that Sunday night after the race,” Martin Truex Jr. told NBC Sports. “We just want to kind of hang out and maybe stay over in the motorhome or something and party in the campground. These races are tough and that’s kind of why you see guys enjoy it so much because you never know when you get another one.”

One tradition that goes with a Truex win is that crew chief Cole Pearn takes a selfie with the team in victory lane and posts it on social media.

Brad Keselowski admits he’s a fan of sprint car drivers climbing on the wing of their car and celebrating after a win. Keselowski has created his unique victory celebration by having a pit crew member bring out an American flag to his car. It’s something he began doing in 2010.

Brad Keselowski celebrating his 2018 win at Indianapolis. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I had won a few races and I didn’t really know what to do, and I thought I’ve got to have a plan for this,” said Keselowski, defending winner of this weekend’s Southern 500. “I thought about something I really liked. I remember when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. did it at Dover (in 2001) and I thought that was the coolest thing and then he stopped. I was never sure why he stopped. I thought that would be really cool to do. Something that nobody else was doing and looked kind of fun and was personal.”

Keselowski has said he thought about a military career if he wasn’t successful with his racing endeavor. His Checkered Flag Foundation supports veterans and first responders.

Kyle Larson has punctuated wins by doing donuts and taking the steering wheel off. That was curtailed after NASCAR advised Larson against such flamboyant actions, citing safety concerns.

“Honestly, in sprint cars, I only do donuts and stuff if it’s a really exciting finish,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I feel like when you win in NASCAR, like you’re obligated to do donuts just because that’s what they expect.”

Rookie Ryan Preece said that there is something better than donuts.

“The donuts are all well and cool, but I think they’re kind of overplayed,” he told NBC Sports. “I think the (reverse) victory lap is something that is pretty special. I would say the (reverse) victory lap is the coolest one of them all. I actually did it at Iowa (in 2017). It’s just not as rough on equipment and is pretty cool seeing all the fans.”

But Ryan Newman likes the donut celebration after a race for a particular reason.

“I still pattern my victory celebrations, which are rusty now at this point, after Alex Zanardi’s donuts,” Newman said. “I always admired him as a race car driver and his ability to celebrate and do it at different parts of the course, and I just thought that was spectacular.

“My dad has always told me if you can’t win, be spectacular. So, I guess if you win, you better be spectacular.”

For others, the celebration can be a moment of thanks. Xfinity driver Chase Briscoe kneels.

“I’m a pretty relaxed guy as it is,” Briscoe said. “I get excited but I don’t get too excited. I feel like my signature thing is just getting down on one knee and praying and just thanking God. I did that at the Roval (last year). I wasn’t in a dark place but really questioning myself and really thankful for the opportunity and just gave Him thanks and it was well received. I’m not going to hide my faith. I’m proud of it. I did it (at Iowa in July) as well.”

The latest celebration comes from the Xfinity Series. While it might not rival a Carl Edwards backflip, Tony Stewart fence climb or Cole Custer’s beer smash and tumble, the latest victory celebration is unique.

It’s a hug.

But not just with anyone.

With one of the NBC Sports reporters.

Austin Cindric bearhugged Rutledge Wood during his interview after Cindric scored his first career Xfinity win at Watkins Glen. Cindric then hugged Dillon Welch during his interview after winning at Mid-Ohio.

It’s that type of emotion Cindric said he likes seeing from others who win, citing Team Penske driver Will Power’s reaction after winning the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

“I think my favorite are the ones where you can see the emotion of the drivers and how much it means to them,” Cindric said. “I think of when Will Power won the Indy 500. He had been trying to win that race so long and to see him do it and be there in person and see how the emotion, there are so many pictures of him going crazy in victory lane, the crazy eyes and the smile, things that mean that much to drivers because there’s a lot of work that goes into it and there’s a lot of pressure you end up putting on yourself. I think that connects with race fans so well when you see ho much it means.

“What drives me nuts, I’ll take your standard Formula One interview, the guy who just had the greatest race of his career and he’s like ‘This is a good weekend, such a great opportunity, thank you to the guys.’ Just the most bland interview. The biggest moment of your life just happened. Get excited about it. I think that’s what makes our sport fun.”

2. Memorable throwback schemes 

With NASCAR heading into to Darlington Raceway for its fifth throwback weekend, here’s a look at my favorite throwback schemes.

Aric Almirola in 2015. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

A classic look.

STP and the Petty Blue. The two were synonymous in NASCAR for years and it only made sense that for the inaugural throwback weekend in 2015, these two would return to the track with the paint scheme from 1972.

Aric Almirola got into the spirit of the weekend by sporting a Fu Manchu to match what Richard Petty once showcased.

Almirola finished 11th in that race.

 

Kyle Larson in 2015. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Perhaps no car has looked as sharp under Darlington Raceway’s lights since the sport went to a throwback weekend format than this car, driven by Kyle Larson in 2015.

What made this car even better was that it had the paint scheme and proper sponsor to go with it.

This mirrored the car Kyle Petty drove for SABCO Racing from 1991-94 (and also the car Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle, drove in the 1990 film “Days of Thunder”).

Larson finished 10th in this car, placing a spot ahead of Aric Almirola in that No. 43 car.

 

Ryan Reed in 2016 in Xfinity Series. (Photo by Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)

This car ran in the Xfinity Series race in 2016, as more Xfinity teams began embracing the throwback idea at Darlington. This continues to grow as several Xfinity teams come to Darlington with throwback schemes each year.

Ryan Reed drove this car for Roush Fenway Racing. The paint scheme pays tribute to Bobby Allison and the car he drove in 1975. Allison won three races that season, including a victory at Darlington.

Reed finished 13th in the Xfinity race.

 

Austin Dillon in 2017 (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Richard Childress Racing had both its No. 3 and 31 cars with this look for the 2017 Southern 500, but the No. 3 car looked the best to me.

RCR went with this look to honor Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 Southern 500 victory with the Wrangler paint scheme.

While Earnhardt will be remembered for his black cars, I always liked this paint scheme.

Dillon finished fourth with this car.

 

William Byron in 2018. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was good to see Jeff Gordon’s rainbow paint scheme eventually return for the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2018.

Dylon Lupton drove a rainbow paint scheme car in the 2017 Xfinity race.

While Lupton’s car looked sharp, the paint scheme was meant to be on a Cup car for throwback weekend. Hendrick Motorsports did the right thing in 2018 by putting it on William Byron’s ride.

Byron finished 35th in last year’s race.

Go here to see what throwback paint schemes will be on the track this weekend at Darlington. The Xfinity Series race will be at 4 p.m. ET on NBC. The Southern 500 airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

3. Playoff race

With two races left in the Cup regular season, four drivers are racing for what would be the final two playoff spots. Daniel Suarez holds the final spot.

The standings look this way entering Sunday’s Southern 500:

15. Ryan Newman — 603 points

16. Daniel Suarez — 591 points

17. Clint Bowyer  2 points out of playoff spot

18. Jimmie Johnson — 26 points out of playoff spot

Newman has an average finish of 12.1 at Darlington, his best of all the active tracks that he’s had more than one start. His 13 top 10s at Darlington also are the most there among active Cup drivers. Suarez has never finished better than 29th in two Cup starts at Darlington. Bowyer has an average finish of 22.8 at Darlington and his only top-10 finish there came in 2007. Johnson is a three-time winner at the track but has not finished better than 12th in the last four races at Darlington.

4. Familiar face

Joe Nemechek, who turns 56 on Sept. 26, will drive the No. 27 Cup car for Premium Motorsports this weekend at Darlington Raceway. This will be Nemechek’s 668th career Cup start but first since March 1, 2015 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He’s continued to run in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

To put it into perspective, when Nemechek last raced in Cup:

# William Byron was in the K&N East Series (and would win the 2015 title)

# Erik Jones was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (and would become the youngest series champion that year)

# Daniel Suarez was in the Xfinity Series (and would become the rookie of the year)

# Kyle Busch was out after being injured in a crash during the February Xfinity race at Daytona (he would come back to win the Cup title that year).

Also, Nemechek is entered in both Xfinity and Cup races at Darlington this weekend. That will give him 1,174 career starts in NASCAR’s top series.

Richard Petty holds the record for most starts in NASCAR’s national series with 1,182 — all in the Cup Series.

Mark Martin is third on the all-time starts list with 1,143 across the three national series. Kevin Harvick is next with 1,139 career starts.

5. Rollin’

Since NBC Sports took over broadcasting the Cup series at Chicagoland Speedway, no driver has scored more points in that time than Denny Hamlin. The top four in points in that time are all from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Here are the drivers who have scored the most points since Chicagoland:

313 – Denny Hamlin

295 – Martin Truex Jr.

290 – Kyle Busch

260 – Erik Jones

257 – Kevin Harvick

257 – Kyle Larson

250 – Joey Logano

245 – William Byron

232 – Kurt Busch

225 – Brad Keselowski

 

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