For IndyCar drivers, the history, challenge of Milwaukee endures

1 Comment

It’s a legendary but rare, still living, enduring, and breathing organism.

“It” is The Milwaukee Mile – the lone remaining one-mile oval on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar – and a track whose history dates back to 1903, the oldest operating auto race track in North America.

Despite appearing similar in view, the two high-speed corners of Turns 1-2 and 3-4 pose a pair of separate and distinct challenges.

And then there’s traffic. For the 250 laps that make up the ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the 22 drivers are weaving, slicing and dicing amongst themselves in a battle for position.

How your car is setup and how well you handle the traffic determine how well your day goes. And a tour through the paddock of drivers reveals how important both of those things are.

“Everything’s tough here. It’s a very challenging track to drive,” says Ed Carpenter, owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. “It looks to be very similar at both ends, but in reality they are very different. The line’s a little different. The racing surface is a little different on each end. And being a flat (track) makes it so challenging.”

While Iowa Speedway is both shorter (0.875 of a mile) and faster (pole speed average over 185 mph), Milwaukee is longer and flatter in terms of short oval races.

Considering his mastery of both tracks over the last three years (he’s won five of the last six short oval races dating to 2011), Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport made a key point that the short ovals aren’t getting their just desserts in terms of points being awarded.

“The short oval is the only discipline of racetrack that we don’t pay double points. We pay double points on the road and streets and on the superspeedways,” Hunter-Reay explained during an INDYCAR conference call last month.

“We don’t pay double points on the short ovals at all. Short ovals is what IndyCar is all about. That’s kind of where it all started. It started obviously at the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Milwaukee Mile is the oldest racetrack in the world. It’s deep in IndyCar heritage.”

Another driver who knows and appreciates the heritage of the race is Ryan Briscoe, who won at Milwaukee in 2008 in what was a banner day for him and his then team, Team Penske.

The win was the first of seven thus far his IndyCar career, and the 300th overall for Penske in racing. Now, six years later, Briscoe’s trying to beat the Penske trio as part of the Chip Ganassi Racing quartet.

“It’s a really tough track, and it’s tough to get consistency over the long run,” Briscoe said. “There’s different handling from one end of the track to the other. I’ve had some really good races with (Scott) Dixon, often I’ve better in 1-2, and he’s better in 3-4. It’s a compromise of setup and the racing line.”

A driver looking to break through this weekend is Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing, who like Briscoe, if either won would tie the mark of different winners in a season with 11.

Wilson made his oval debut at the track 10 years ago, in 2004 in Champ Car, and has had two near misses on potential wins. He finished second in 2006, and was charging through the field in 2012 before an engine failure.

“It was pretty intense. I remember it being a very long night,” Wilson recalled of his 2004 rookie start, with Conquest Racing. “I was loose on turn in to 1 and 3. And this was back in the Champ Car days when we used to have 750 horsepower! So it was really fast. My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is hard.’ We missed the setup… it wasn’t a lot of fun.

“But then we came back the next year (with RuSPORT) and it was much better. We qualified fourth and things were a lot easier, a lot smoother. It was two extremes within one 12-month period.”

Of his 2006 battle with Nelson Philippe for second, Wilson said he had to have a good car to be able to run side-by-side for 20-lap segments.

In 2012, with Coyne, Wilson qualified second, had an engine change penalty that dropped him to 12thh on the grid, came from there to fifth or sixth twice before the engine blew. It was frustrating, he said, because he knew they had a race-winning car.

A win in 2014 though, 10 years after his oval debut, would be special.

“It’d mean a lot to win here… it’s such a historical track,” Wilson said. “It’s the first oval I raced at, so to come full circle and to get a win would be pretty cool.”

We’ll see whether it’ll be either of the above four or the other 18 entered will break through this weekend.

Penske, Roush voted into NASCAR Hall of Fame, but earned first success in other forms of motorsports

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Roger Penske and Jack Roush, who both began their own racing and team ownership careers — in open-wheel and sports car competition for Penske and drag racing and sports cars for Roush — were named Wednesday to the 2019 induction class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The duo will join Jeff Gordon and the late Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki when the 2019 Class is formally inducted into the Hall on February 1, 2019, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MORE: Jeff Gordon leads 2019 Hall of Fame class

While they’re being honored for their success in NASCAR, here are some of the highlights of both Penske’s and Roush’s highly-successful careers, including outside of NASCAR, as well:

***********************************

Penske, 81, has been involved in motorsports for over six decades. He began racing at the age of 19 in 1958 and quickly became a prolific presence behind the wheel.

However, his driving career lasted just seven years until he retired in 1965 to concentrate on building both his business empire, as well as established Penske Racing (later renamed Team Penske) in 1966, making its debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona (now known as the Rolex 24 Hours).

The most notable success Penske has earned as a team owner is a record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories between 1972 (Mark Donohue won) and 2015 (Juan Pablo Montoya).

Penske has four drivers entered in this Sunday’s Indy 500: 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, 2016 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, who is attempting to win a fourth 500, which would tie him for most wins in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Being named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame adds another honor to a lengthy list of milestones for Penske, including induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1998), the Motorsports Hall of Fame (1995) of America, Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame (2015).

Team Penske has won 200 Indy car races (most recent win was Will Power’s triumph on May 12 in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis), as well as 10 USAC open-wheel championships, as well as three IndyCar Series titles.

He also has 108 NASCAR Cup (including two Daytona 500s) and 65 Xfinity Series wins as a team owner, as well as one championship in each series, including the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski.

In total, Team Penske’s has earned 489 major race wins across all series and 556 poles. Included are wins in IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

He also was an early owner of Michigan International Speedway and led construction of Auto Club Speedway. He was also involved in the operation of several other facilities including Nazareth Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and North Carolina Speedway.

Here are some comments from some of Penske’s current and former IndyCar drivers on his induction into NASCAR’s shrine:

Rick Mears (Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, three-time INDYCAR Champion, 29 INDYCAR wins): “It’s been an incredible relationship between myself and Roger since day one. Roger never pressured me from the moment I met him. There was never a time he came and said ‘you need to do this.’ He always let me do things at my pace. He never pressured me to be a great driver up front. He let me learn at my pace. And that is the type of person Roger Penske is.

“This is an incredible honor for someone who has been such a big part of my life, and the lives of so many within the racing industry. It’s not always about race wins and championships, but the type of influence you are able to have on people. Roger has always prided himself on his people. He will be the first to tell you he would never be where he is now without the people he had around him.  And that humility and humbleness is what makes him a great leader. I am really excited for him and for this honor. To be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is something that is so deserving of so many people, but very few are more deserving for what they have done for the sport and for so many people within the sport than Roger Penske.”

Sam Hornish Jr. (2006 Indianapolis 500 Champion, 2006 INDYCAR Champion, 3 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins): “For me, driving for Roger Penske was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. You know he’s going to give you the tools to win and you want to hold up your end of the bargain. There’s a great amount of desire that takes place for someone to be a NASCAR team owner and it takes an even larger commitment of the most precious resource: time. There shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame that doesn’t have him in it and it’s without question that he should be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”

Josef Newgarden (2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion, current series point leader): “Congrats to Roger on this achievement. He is a legend in so many aspects of motorsports, so it is only natural for him to receive this kind of recognition in NASCAR as well. It has always been a team effort for Roger and that has spread across all of his motorsports platforms.  For me, it is fun to keep up with what the NASCAR teams are doing. I have always been a fan of that style of racing so it is great to see Roger get recognized for all the time and energy he has put into that part of Team Penske.”

Simon Pagenaud (2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion, 7 IndyCar Series wins): “Congratulations to Roger on such a great honor. I don’t know if he fully understands everything he has done for our sport of auto racing. All of us drivers can’t thank him enough for being such an incredible man for motorsports, for the history that he’s built and the empire around racing that is Team Penske. Thank you Roger for everything you’ve done and what an honor.”

Will Power (2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion, 30 IndyCar Series wins): “Congratulations to Roger for his election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s a very deserving honor for someone who has meant so much for motorsports and for me personally in my career. His accomplishments in NASCAR are certainly impressive and there’s no question that he’s established a legacy there from his time as a driver to owning and managing successful racetracks to all the production on the track as a team owner. I feel so privileged to drive for Roger and for Team PenskeHe represents everything that you think about when you consider a Hall of Famer.”

Helio Castroneves (Longest-tenured Team Penske driver, 32 total wins, 53 total poles): “If there was ever a person that deserved to be inducted into any racing Hall of Fame it would be Roger Penske. He deserves it not only for what he has done in motorsports but also for the person he is. He is a leader for all of us and someone I have always admired throughout my career. Congratulations, Roger, on your induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It has been such an honor to drive for you during my career. I hope to give you many more race wins in the future.”

Juan Pablo Montoya (2015 Indianapolis 500 Champion, Acura Team Penske driver): “I think Roger’s election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is something that people expect. Everything that Roger has done, not only in NASCAR, but in racing in general has been amazing. He has been an enormous influence in motorsports all over the world. For me personally I just want to give him a huge congratulations on this honor. I am very proud to be a part of this organization and everything Roger and the team stands for.”

***********************************

Jack Roush, 76, is NASCAR’s winningest all-time owner.

He was previously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2008) and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (2010).

Before he achieved success in NASCAR, Roush was first known for his success as a both a driver and then team owner in NHRA, IHRA and AHRA drag racing events in the 1960s through the early 1980s.

He moved into the world of sports cars, including the IMSA Camel GT series in the early 1980s, a tenure that continued into the early 1990s, as well as the Trans-Am Series.

He began competition in NASCAR in 1988 when he founded a Cup team with Mark Martin as his driver. Martin was inducted last year into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Jack Roush’s and Mark Martin’s paths to induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame began together in 1988. (Photo courtesy Roush Fenway Racing)

It’s in NASCAR that Roush has achieved the most success, with a NASCAR record 325 wins across NASCAR Cup, the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

He’s also won six championships across those three series.

Like Penske, Roush is also highly successful not only in racing, but also in business, with much of his corporate empire encompassing performance products and services.

Follow @JerryBonkowski