ROGER PENSKE, TEAM OWNER FOR TEAM PENSKE DRIVERS WILL POWER, HELIO CASTRONEVES, AND THEIR TEAMMATE JUAN PABLO MONTOYA met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway for a question and answer session. Full transcript:
An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. We’re going to get started here with our media availability for Roger Penske. We’ll have Roger answer a couple of questions and we’ll open it up for questions from our audience, as well. I appreciate everyone joining us today as we get ready to go for the IndyCar title at the MAVTV 500 here this weekend. I guess just talk about the season it’s been in 2014, obviously a terrific year for Team Penske with Will and Helio battling it out for the championship and a great addition with Juan Pablo Montoya who’s running sixth in the series this year.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think we really started the season thinking we were going to start with two drivers, and then Montoya came available, was a real opportunity for him to have him join our team. He was really understated as he came to the team. He said, look, don’t expect too much, I’ve got to work on it, and obviously the culmination of the win at Pocono was great for him. He showed a lot of strength last week finishing fifth obviously at Sonoma, but overall each driver has had a win: Juan with one, Helio with one and three with Power.
Being in this position for the championship, I probably shouldn’t be up here because every year we seem to get to this race or the last race and we seem to kick the can down the road. But hopefully in the position we’re in with 51 points, Helio, and 81 points ahead by Will, that we’re in a pretty good position.
Funny things happen in this business, and we’ll have to see how we end up on race day. But so far the teams have been good. We’ve got new crew chiefs certainly with Vance on Montoya’s car, and certainly Travis is one of our young guys, moved over to be crew chief on Helio’s, so we’ve been able to grow from within the organization to add the third car. So we’re pretty excited about the reliability of the cars. Certainly the pit stops are getting better and better.
It’s a great, competitive environment. When you see the number of cars that can run quick, and every single weekend the reliability, the quality of the teams, I think the sport has come a long way.
Q. It’s obviously been a terrific season overall for Team Penske, not only the success on the IndyCar side but also in NASCAR, terrific weekend last weekend in Bristol and now the organization sits on the precipice of 400 wins, 399 wins entering this weekend. Can you just put into perspective this year, what that year has meant to the team?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, when we go to the racetrack, we’re there for one reason, to win, sit on the pole and lead laps. I saw a statistic just in the last couple of days that Joey Logano has led more laps this year than he has in his whole previous career in NASCAR. So that shows that he’s matured. He’s only 22 years old. In fact they said he was younger than Ty Dillon.
At the end of the day with he and Brad, we’ve got a great team. They’re working together. When you look at the crew chiefs, Paul Wolfe and also Todd Gordon, these guys have come up through our Nationwide program, that’s really been one of the great things to use that as a stepping‑stone. Young Blaney has done a great job beating Kyle Busch last week.
I just have to say that the execution of the team, I think Tim’s idea to consolidate the teams under one roof back a number of years ago is paying dividends. We’ve got a number of people that have been on NASCAR working on IndyCar and vice versa, and I think that the engineer in fact on Juan’s car was a Nationwide crew chief for us or an engineer in the past.
All of this comes together at one point, and that’s at the racetrack, and I think at the end of the day, we’re excited to be where we are. But we’ve got the Chase coming up, we have two cars in the Chase, and we’ve got two cars in the Chase tomorrow night. We’ll see if we can’t finish it off.
Q. Winning championships in any series isn’t easy, but it’s kind of been especially hard to win them in this series. Talk about how difficult it has been. You’ve got one championship in 2006, tomorrow night you’re probably going to get No. 2, but just how difficult it is to win a championship in this series.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think it just shows you the competition, and maybe our poor execution the last couple years has left the door open and let these guys drive through it. We’ve raced Chip for many years. He’s got world‑class drivers this year, and also with the team that he’s had in the past with Dixon and Franchitti and now Kanaan and Briscoe and the 83 car. But to me this will be a big effort for us, and it means a lot.
But Andretti has got a very formidable team, and last year Hunter‑Reay showed how strong he is persevering through some tough times and then being able to do it at the end.
You know, who knows. This is the way the business is, and you can’t win them all, and we’ve had a great run. I think we’re close to our 400th win if we’d win this weekend. When you look back, I’ll take those wins and the poles, but the championships obviously mean ‑‑ are special, and the one in 2012 with NASCAR was good. If we can get another one this year, that would be a terrific year for us.
Q. With NASCAR and your IndyCar team you’re very busy; nevertheless when this new FIA Formula EV was launched, did you know it was playing with the idea to join this? And the second question, next year for the IndyCar staff we have the aero kits. Are you planning to develop your own kits or is it all up to Chevrolet?
ROGER PENSKE: Let me answer the first question first. The aero kits are being developed by the two manufacturers. We’ll run the Chevy one obviously with our commitment to Chevrolet, and Honda will have theirs for the Honda teams, which we’ll see ‑‑ I guess we’ll run the first couple races in the old style but we’ll race before we get to Indy with the new kit so we have some understanding that there will be some test dates coming up which will give us some indication of what to expect.
I think the good thing is it’s about safety, keeping the cars on the ground. If we can accomplish that and still have good racing like we’ve had today, I think will be key.
As far as EV Racing, I guess my son Jay is taking that on on his own, so we’ll see. He’ll give me good feedback on how that’s going to progress and what that’s going to mean to the next series of racing.
Q. In Formula 1 we’ve seen team orders. If you have Power leading and Helio on his tail for the championship this weekend, will there be team orders, or will it be every guy for his own?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think you’ve seen us race before. I don’t think there will be team orders. Obviously we use our heads, the drivers will. I don’t think ‑‑ if Helio is running second and Will is leading, he won’t win the championship, so there’s no reason to take chances. I think what we need to do is we need to run this race. Helio may be a little different than Will. Will has got to finish the race in good shape. Things would have to fall perfectly for Pagenaud for him to win. But to me, you never know. We’ve got to get through qualifying, we’ve got to get through the practice tonight, and obviously anything can happen in the race.
We’re not big on team orders. Obviously we’ll see what’s out there, but at the present time each guy for himself.
Q. As far as the rivalry between you and Tim Cindric operating the No. 12 and the No. 3, do you actually feel a certain rivalry there, or as far as you’re concerned is it everyone is a winner if one of them takes it?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, we race each other every weekend, and we communicate on our intercom sometimes what we’re going to do. I ask him, what do you think. He usually tells me what he’s thinking. That’s something different. I think it’s full transparency. But tomorrow night, we want to see one of these cars in the winner’s circle for the championship. I think that’s priority one. So whatever we can do to get there, obviously that will be the action plan and the plan for the night.
Q. What’s your take on the season being so shortened? We have about six months before the season gets started again. What’s your take on that?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think you’d like to run the whole season, but this year and in the future there’s so much competition out there with NFL football. They’re running almost every night, and I think they started with Monday night, now they’ve got Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and the competition for sports is significant, and to me if we can have a good schedule where we get some date equity, meaning we go back to the same cities and the same locations typically at the same time, that’ll build the series.
I think the series has made big steps this year. Obviously I’m committed to Verizon, but I think their name, the kind of company they are, the integrity they bring to the series has been outstanding, and the technology, the speed, the things that they stand for is key. If we can get a consistent schedule here, I think it’s going to be much better for us and for our people if we can do other things, and we can move some people over to NASCAR, we can do a lot of work. There’s a lot of work to do in the off‑season. These guys work every weekend, every single day.
I think we’ve got to manage it. It’s going to be new for us, but we’ve got plenty of racing going on after this weekend.
Q. How special would it be for you to win the title here at the track that you built?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, as I drove in this morning with Tim Cindric, I looked around and I said, a lot of the things that we spent so many years walking around here building this place, I remember coming here it was a slag pile and an old steel mill, and there was 5 million tires, I think, piled up around here, and where we sit today we had to cover with a membrane because of the EPA requirements.
To me California Speedway is something special. In some ways I wish I never sold it. But business is business. But to me it puts on great racing. I think for the fans we built it the right size, and certainly this area out here, when you come through this area of Ontario or Fontana, it’s changed, and we’ve made a big difference for the people who live and work in this area.
To be able to win here, the championship at the California Speedway, that would go down as a real special thing for us.
ROGER PENSKE: Did you really? That’s amazing. Yeah, when you think about, we came out here, I couldn’t ‑‑ the first time I flew over it with a helicopter it was all ‑‑ it was really very cloudy with Walt Czarnecki, and I couldn’t see it well, but then we came back out again and we laid out the track and were able to say this will be the pit area because the EPA requirements here and the contamination was so bad you had to cap it and we had to get approval from the government, which we did, and certainly the county here, and I have to thank Les Richter who passed away, obviously great friend of mine, was very, very key in ‑‑ he was really the ombudsman really to work with the county to be able to bring this track to where it is today. You forget about that and forget about people sometimes.
He was key in that first group of people at work for us here, and obviously it’s under the Speedway Corp banner, International Speedway Corp, and to me we just need to have good races here, and I’m glad to see an IndyCar race back here. Certainly AAA, we brought them into the sport, and to see Tom McKernan and them be the name of the speedway was something special because it’s the Auto Club Speedway. We think a lot of them and are partners with them in business.
Q. Will has been so close to closing the championship and getting the title the last few years, and it seems in the past he’s been somewhat conservative about worrying about the championship where this year his attitude seems to be I just want to go out and win races, I’m not going to worry about the championship. Do you think that’s really made a big difference?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, there’s no question. I think that the win year a year ago on the oval gave him the confidence that he can race the best wheel‑to‑wheel in winning this race, and you saw him at Pocono. I think one of the best races he ever ran for us was at Milwaukee a couple weeks ago running wheel‑to‑wheel with Kanaan, and leading 229 laps out of the 250 showed how strong he is. Obviously this past weekend we had a slow pit stop and got ourselves in a position where we got behind and obviously the results speak for themselves, but he’s on it. I think he’s going to run hard. I think he’s going to run smart, and to me it will be great to see he or Helio ‑‑ both of them, I always tell our guys, if one driver wins, the team wins, and if you’re on the team, you get that benefit. Now they might not want to think it’s me rather than you, but on the other hand that’s kind of how we’ve operated for so many years.
Q. Kind of following up on that a little bit, tomorrow night you’re very likely to have one driver that’s going to be very happy having a crowning moment of his career. Another driver is going to be pretty disappointed that he didn’t win. You as a team owner, how do you balance that? How do you balance the fact that one driver is going to be overjoyed and the other is going to be feeling despair?
ROGER PENSKE: One of the things that Tim and I talked about a little while ago is before the race tomorrow get all our guys together and tell them we got here because it was a team effort, and the team wins. Obviously only one guy is in the winner’s circle when you’ve got three drivers, so there’s always some disappointment, but I think it builds for the future, the fact that we have these three great drivers gives us a real plan for the future, and there’s no question that they’re committed to the sport and we’re committed to them.
Q. I know you’re in a tough spot here, but will there be just a little bit of disappointment if your car doesn’t win the championship tomorrow?
ROGER PENSKE: Listen, I can say that I’m never disappointed. As long as we’ve been competitive, I think at the end of the day ‑‑ I won a championship with Hornish and I won with it other drivers and Tim has won a number of championships as he is the leader. To me if the team wins I’ll feel great. Obviously I’ll put my arm around Helio or my arm around Will, whoever it is, and hey, maybe I’ll be putting my arm around somebody else ‑ I don’t know that ‑ my wife. But at the end of the day, we’ll see what happens.
Q. Are you worried that this race caps at 1:30 plus in the morning on the East Coast? Is that a problem for you as a businessman?
ROGER PENSKE: I’m not ‑‑ right now, I really haven’t focused on the TV to be honest with you at 1:30 in the morning. I’m focusing on the race. Obviously I’d like it to be sooner, but the ability to have it on TV, what’s available, obviously there’s no question that the sanctioning body has done their best.
Q. If you could put on your NASCAR hat again, what was your reaction if any to NASCAR saying today that Tony Stewart can be in the Chase if he wins one of the last two races even though he missed a bunch of races, and how did you fare in the earthquake last week?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, speaking of Tony, Tony is so rock solid in the sport, he’s meant so much to NASCAR for so many years, and to me Mike Helton and France and the sanctioning body have made the right decision. Obviously they’ve left open the opportunity if there was a situation that’s come up that’s not normal, they can make that decision. But I’m not part of that decision making, but I felt for Tony and certainly for the Ward family for the last number of weeks. I’m glad to see him come out. I think his words and thoughts today that he said personally and wrote personally were from the heart and means a lot to me and means a lot to the people in the garage area and certainly means a lot to his fans.
The other question? What was ‑‑
Q. The earthquake.
ROGER PENSKE: Oh, the earthquake. I was fortunate, I was at a low buck hotel over in Rafael, so I didn’t really ‑‑ I never felt a little bit ‑‑ I thought, that’s just normal out here, so I was fine.
Q. Shell‑Pennzoil has been a big part of your team for a number of years. The news today that the Houston race that they were the title sponsor of is not going to be on the schedule for 2015, does that have any impact on I guess them as a sponsor, and how confident are you about that city coming back with Shell?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I wasn’t the promoter, obviously, was not involved in any of the negotiations. I think the date was a tough date because of the time of year, and I think it was really up to the promoter of that to determine what he wanted to do. I mean, I thought the venue was great. I think the racing was good. But to me, I don’t think it’ll have any impact on our sponsorship. I think that’s a different business side that makes that decision as far as the race sponsorship.
But you never like to see a company like Shell‑Pennzoil leave the sport in any way.
Q. The way that Juan has driven the second half of this year especially, do you fully expect him to be ‑‑ we’ll be talking about him next year at this time about the championship?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, we’re talking about him now, which is good, so I guess that’s a primer to what’ll happen next year. I think Juan needs to get his confidence on some of the road courses. I think his qualifying and track position is important, but as a racer I think he’s passed a lot of people and under lots of conditions here in the last half of the season as you said. He’s strong. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes tomorrow night. I think that he might be the guy you have to see in the winner’s circle tomorrow night because he’s hungry and he wants another 500 win.
Q. You invited us here when you opened the speedway in ’97 to bring those historic cars. We just wanted to thank you. We’re still here. We’re in garage 1, and again. We can’t thank you enough for saluting history.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I saw the cars over there earlier when I came in, and it’s interesting, that’s a long time ago when you think that it was ’97 when we opened the track. Those cars mean so much to the sport, different people, different drivers, different teams, and obviously the technology continues to change. I hope that you’re here 17 more years.