Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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Xfinity Series to race on Indy’s road course

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The Xfinity Series will race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course this year, track officials announced Wednesday.

The July 4 race, sponsored by Pennzoil, will take place at 1:30 p.m. ET and air on NBC. The Cup race on July 5 also will be on NBC at 3:30 p.m. ET.

“As all the Xfinity drivers are looking into this weekend, I think we’re all going to be excited to be (in) the first NASCAR road race at Indy,” Justin Allgaier said during Wednesday’s press conference. “We’re all going to want to win that first race. I remember the first time coming here and racing in the Xfinity Series how exciting that was.”

Matt DiBenedetto will test different configurations for the road course on Jan. 22, Ben Kennedy, NASCAR managing director, racing operations and international development, said Wednesday. Kennedy said DiBenedetto will not be eligible to compete in the Xfinity race in July.

Moving the Xfinity race from the oval to the road course is the first major move made at the track since Roger Penske’s company purchased the speedway. One of Penske’s priorities has been putting more emphasis on the track’s NASCAR weekend, which has suffered significant attendance declines for more than a decade.

“We look at the (Indianapolis) 500 and the success we have and this race, we had many, many fans here as we started and then we had the issue with tires (in the 2008 race that led to NASCAR issuing an apology) and other things,” Penske said about why the focus on the NASCAR weekend. “We really have not had the ability to fill the stands the way we want. I think it’s a challenge for us. It’s something we want to work on. So it became a priority for us.”

Penske Corporation’s purchase of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions became official Jan. 6. The sale to Roger Penske’s company was announced Nov. 4.

Penske discussed his plans for the track Jan. 9 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, saying: “I guess my first grade card is how we do in the first year in making a difference at the track in 2020. We’re completely focused on that. We’re going to make several millions of dollars of investments before the month of May. It’s not to create more revenue or profit bottom-line, it’s entirely what can we do to make the guest and fan experience better.”

This will be the fifth road course event on the 33-race schedule for the Xfinity Series this season.

The other road course races will be May 30 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Aug. 8 at Road America, Aug. 15 at Watkins Glen and Oct. 10 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The Xfinity Series has raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2012. Kyle Busch has won four of those races. Other winners have been Allgaier (2018), William Byron (2017), Ty Dillon (2014) and Brad Keselowski (2012).

The plan is that track officials will need about 90 minutes to convert the track back to the oval configuration after the Xfinity race on July 4 before Cup teams will be able to practice. The first practice is tentatively scheduled for 5:05 – 5:55 p.m. ET and final practice is scheduled for 6:35 – 7:25 p.m. ET. Cup teams will qualify the morning of the July 5 race at the tentative time of 11:05 a.m. ET.

Other announcements about the Indy weekend are that Florida Georgia Line will hold a concert on July 4, a fireworks show and new infield camping.

While there could be a tire test at some point, there are no plans at this time for any additional testing other than the test with DiBenedetto next week. Penske said the focus of the test with DiBenedetto will be primarily to look at run-off areas.

“We will not be running at any speeds here next week, just with the weather,” Penske said. “If someone thinks we picked him to run this. This was a car that could be available.”

Roger Penske likes direction NASCAR, his organization are going

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The Captain likes what he sees in the waters ahead of him.

Roger Penske made a special guest appearance Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Trading Paint” and is bullish on what’s ahead for NASCAR as the series begins to implement a number of changes over the next few years.

Those include the change from one series entitlement sponsor as in past seasons in favor of four premier partners this season, as well as a revised schedule (with the potential of more schedule alterations in 2021 and beyond).

There’s also the highly anticipated Next Gen car slated for 2021, a push to attract additional car manufacturers and an industry-wide focus on cost cutting.

“One of the main things NASCAR is trying to do is take costs out,” Penske told co-hosts John Roberts and Chocolate Myers. “People say speed costs money, how fast do you want to go? But I think we’re at a limit where we have to go the other way.

“To me, the cost is key. The schedule is going to be different, I understand, but its also going to give other teams the ability to raise sponsorships and if the costs are cut by 30 or 40 percent, it’s going to allow new people to join the sport, which I feel is very, very important as we go forward.

“We need new owners, more new drivers that want to come in with maybe a new team, some of the new things they’ve announced on pit stops, and there’s a lot of discussions going on with NASCAR.”

Another area that Penske, who turns 83 next month, is also very bullish is even closer to home: the shakeup of shifting all three NASCAR Cup crew chiefs in his organization earlier this week:

“You have to look at the talent you have both on and off the track and people have been together a number of years,” Penske told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s like any person in any job, people like a change and it motivates them.

“We felt we had three great guys and great drivers and we said, ‘Let’s change it up this year and let’s see what happens.’ This isn’t because anybody asked for it or not. … We sat down and said what can we do differently than to have a bigger spoiler or engine that can motivate our guys going forward. It was pretty much made before Christmas … and the guys are off and running.

“I think it’s good. You see people moving crew chiefs and drivers moving around, but this is part of our business plan and part of the way we run our business.”

To further illustrate Team Penske’s one-for-all and all-for-one mantra, the organization’s patriarch said there were no objections among the three crew chiefs that were shifted, nor their drivers.

“I don’t know who spun out or didn’t because they wouldn’t tell me, but everybody reported to work so that’s the only true test I can have,” Penske said with a laugh, before drawing serious again. “Everybody was on it and wanted to go forward.

“So let’s see what the result is. It’s going to be interesting. When you start working with someone new, there’s new ideas and it’s not the same old, same old. This business is moving so fast, we have to be better as a whole team, not just crew chiefs and drivers.

“We had a good season, it wasn’t a bad season, but it wasn’t a championship season and we’re in the business of winning championships. … Sometimes it makes sense to give someone another opportunity in another job and that’s what we did.”

Penske also addressed the acquisition of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series; the sale from Hulman & Co. officially closed this past Monday.

“I looked at it as an opportunity,” Penske said. “And to me, if the legacy can go down that we can take this track, none of us can say whether we did a better job than they did after 74 years.

“I guess my first grade card is how we do in the first year in making a difference at the track in 2020. We’re completely focused on that. We’re going to make several millions of dollars of investments before the month of May. It’s not to create more revenue or profit bottom-line, it’s entirely what can we do to make the guest and fan experience better.

“That’s what we want to do. We have a number of things on our mind and we’re going to announce a lot of those things on 100 days out. We’ll have some announcements that will be exciting and hopefully the experience will be what we expect to provide to the guests that come to the track.”

The voice of the normally stoic Penske cracked slightly when asked what he thought when the sale was complete and the pride of 16th and Georgetown in Indianapolis was his after 74 years of ownership by the Hulman-George family.

“I did one thing,” he said, as his voice slightly quivered. “I looked up in the sky and said to my dad, ‘thanks’ because he took me there (for the first time) when I was 14 years old.”

Penske then continued about the significance of the track where his teams have captured a record 18 Indianapolis 500s.

“I’ve been there every year since that day in ’51,” Penske said. “It’s amazing what it brings to us. It’s an amazing place and certainly from our family, my son Greg who was very important in building California Speedway.

“I was fortunate here on the (January) 7th after we completed the transaction to be invited by the governor to go downtown and go to the (Indiana state) Senate along with Tony (George), Mark Miles, my son Greg and I and have the Senate read and approve a declaration of the day and many of the senators got up and spoke about the history of the Speedway and their families, and then we did the same thing at the (Indiana state) House. It was just amazing.

“Understand that this is the Holy Grail of the state of Indiana. They told stories about being in the state of Alaska in 1981 when Bobby Unser won the race and then they took it away because they looked at TV and said he passed when he blended — and they were arguing about it in Alaska.

“You just think about the reach of this place. Our responsibility is it’s a treasure, it’s iconic and something from my perspective, it’s just exactly what built our brand. … Certainly winning there 18 years, finally winning the Brickyard, winning on the road course, you can’t just say it happens. It takes so many great people that have given us the opportunities to be winners, so I just have to thank them. And I thank my dad … and here we are.”

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Roger Penske official owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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One of biggest stories in auto racing this century is now official.

Penske Corporation announced Monday morning that the acquisition of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions has been completed.

The sale to Roger Penske’s company had been announced Nov. 4 but took about two months to finalize.

“We are looking forward to carrying on the tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar racing,” Penske said in a statement. “We have been diligently working with the teams at IMS, IndyCar and IMS Productions over the last two months to ensure a smooth and productive transition and we are ready to hit the ground running.

“Now, it is time to get to work as we continue the growth of the Speedway and we build on the momentum of the NTT IndyCar Series.”

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles had told NBCSports.com in late December that Jan. 6 was the target date for making it official with Penske, who has toured the IMS property often over the last several weeks and already has begun directing many cleanup and improvement initiatives.

“People call it ‘Penske Perfect,’” Miles said. “This is a massive place, and it’s a venerable place. It’s hard to keep it up to that standard, and we haven’t. But it’s also habits. The way you look at your desk or a storage room or a closet. The day of the announcement, Roger walked around and looked in great detail at everything. I began to see the place differently within an hour. I saw it through Roger’s eyes.

“In a way, it was embarrassing. Under the excuse of budgets and tight money, we had not really been as attentive as we should be taking pride in the place.”

Penske is the fourth owner of the world’s most famous racetrack, where his cars have 18 victories in the famed Indianapolis 500. He has purchased IMS from Hulman and Co., which has owned and managed the track since 1945.

NASCAR will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the 27th annual running of the Brickyard 400 on July 5, which will mark the debut of the race on July 4 weekend.

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.”