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Penske, Menards announce extension for 10 IndyCar races in 2017

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Team Penske and Menards have announced an extension of their partnership for 10 races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, including the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Menards’ luminous yellow livery graced Simon Pagenaud’s no. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet for the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, starting what initially was set to be a three-race deal.

The partnership eventually expanded to five races as Pagenaud raced in Menards’ colors for Road America, Iowa and Pocono, and will do so a further 10 times in 2017 after a long-term deal was announced.

Here’s the release from Penske on the deal:

Team Penske announced today that it has reached a partnership extension with industry-leading home improvement store company Menards for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and beyond.

The easily-identifiable bright yellow paint scheme of Menards will continue to shine on track with 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship contender Simon Pagenaud and the No. 22 Dallara/Chevrolet for 10 races in 2017, including the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28.

“Partnering Menards with our Verizon IndyCar Series program just makes sense. The company’s deep Midwest roots are a perfect fit with the IndyCar fan base,” said Roger Penske, whose team will prepare to clinch its 14th IndyCar Series Championship this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

“Menards is a great example of a partner that is completely engaged with our program at Team Penske. They not only make the most of our partnership by building brand awareness, Menards also helps market and promote the series, as well as our other team partners. We are excited to continue to build with them for the future.”

The partnership between Team Penske and Menards began in 2016. The relationship started out with Menards serving as a primary sponsor on the No. 22 Team Penske Chevy for three races before it grew to a total of five races this season.

In 2017, Menards will continue to enhance its presence with primary sponsorship on the No. 22 car with Pagenaud at 10 races, focusing on events and areas where the company has strong marketing presence.

“Menards is an institution in the Midwest and it’s an honor to represent them,” said Pagenaud, who carries a 43-point lead in the series championship over teammate Will Power into the final race of the season at Sonoma on Sunday.

“Every time I walk into one of their stores I’m amazed. There’s nothing you can’t find there. More importantly, though, is the friendly atmosphere the store associates create. Everyone at Team Penske is looking forward to growing with Menards next year and into the future.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”