Penske Racing celebrates 50th Anniversary of racing in the Indianapolis 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – From Mark Donohue in 1969 to today’s lineup of Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and every driver in between, Team Penske’s 50thAnniversary at the Indianapolis 500 is a tremendous achievement to celebrate.

When Penske Racing entered its first Indianapolis 500 in 1969, they stood out to the grease-stained and grizzled USAC crowd that inhabited Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They were the “College Boys with crew cuts, starched shirts and polished wheels” as team owner Roger Penske recalled.

The team’s arrival transformed the culture of the Indianapolis 500. Penske brought innovation, sponsorship, engineering and a “business-to-business” background that increased the professionalism of the sport and the event. Instead of the days of “run what you brung” on a trailer being hauled to the Speedway behind a station wagon, Penske Racing were the first to have a team transporter, affectionately known as the “Blue Hilton” because it had a sleeper cab up front.

“The key thing is we have brought certain sophistication to the sport,” Penske told NBC Sports.com last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We did that in CAN-Am with Porsche and certainly in Trans-Am. We had a commitment to our sponsors so when we came to the Speedway, we wanted to represent them properly. You didn’t bring a company like Sun Oil Company without showing their brands and their colors and that is what we did.

“That was an evolution. The equipment, the people, the discipline.

“It’s ironic that 50 years later, we will have 500 to 600 years of experience in our pits during this race.

“The sport has grown and the Indianapolis 500 has also grown over the last 50 years.”

Mark Donohue won the team’s first Indy 500 in 1972. Rick Mears won all four of his Indy 500s with Penske. Al Unser won his fourth Indy 500 with the team, Helio Castroneves won all three of his Indy 500s with Penske and Will Power gave the team a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win in 2018.

“Thirty-eight percent of the times we have entered this race, we have won,” Penske said proudly. “We’ve had 18 poles, 17 wins and have won 17 Pit Stop contests.

“More important, the stat that gets me the most is we have led over 11 total races – 2300-plus laps. That shows me the drivers that we’ve had and the execution by our team.”

Penske Racing has enjoyed success, more than failure. But one of its most epic failures occurred in 1995 when neither of the team’s two drivers – defending Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Jr. or two-time Indy winner Emerson Fittipaldi failed to make the 33-car starting lineup.

That came just one year after the famed Mercedes-Benz 209 cubic-inch pushrod engine, known as “The Beast,” dominated the 1994 Indianapolis 500.

It began a long departure for the team. In 1996, Penske remained loyal to CART as its teams boycotted the Indianapolis 500 over the creation of the Indy Racing League.

Team Penske boycotted the Indy 500 from 1996 to 2000. Penske returned to the Indianapolis 500 in 2001.

It was the first time Team Penske went 1-2 in the Indy 500 with a young Castroneves winning the race ahead of then-teammate and two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran.

“Probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in racing was leaving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a few years,” Penske said. “Racers have hard heads and I guess I had a pretty hard one on those days.

“We came back and won the race three years in a row and have never looked back. This race is special and you need to be here to win.”

Donohue got Penske Racing its first Indianapolis 500 win in 1972. After that, he had to wait until Rick Mears won the 1979 Indy 500 before he could celebrate a second win at Indy.

That started the team on its still ongoing incredible run. Bobby Unser won in 1981, Mears in 1984, Danny Sullivan in 1984, Al Unser won his fourth Indy 500 in Penske car in 1987, Mears won again in 1988 and 1991 becoming a four-time Indy 500 winner.

Fittipaldi won his second Indianapolis 500 in 1993 driving for Penske, followed by Unser’s win in “The Beast” in 1994.

When Penske returned to join the old Indy Racing League in 2001, he won three-straight years – Castroneves in 2001 and 2002 and De Ferran in 2003. Sam Hornish, Jr. won in 2006 and Castroneves got Indy 500 win No. 3 in 2009.

Juan Pablo Montoya returned Team Penske to Victory Lane in 2015 and Power got his first Indy 500 win, and the team’s 17th, last year.

“When you go back to 1979, we had our own car and it had a Cosworth engine and it was similar to Formula One,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “From that point on, with Nigel Bennett, we had a wind tunnel and those assets helped us. Now, everybody has the same pieces and that has helped a lot of people because it has kept the costs down.”

Ask Penske which is his favorite win, and he really can’t pick one.

“The first win and the last one, I guess are my two favorite,” Penske quipped. “Maybe when you think about 1985 when Danny Sullivan spun and won that race, that’s one. And, winning with the Mercedes-Benz engine in 1994. Or, getting Sam Hornish, Jr. that win in 2006, that one stands out.

“If you look at the last five or six laps of that race on used tires, what Sam did was amazing. To beat Marco at the checkered flag was amazing. That was a big day for Sam and a big day for the team.

“But, it’s really hard to pick just one as my favorite.”

When asked if the team was going to throw a 50thAnniversary Celebration for the team, Penske answered like a true racer.

“I think we’ve had enough celebrations for this year,” he said. “What I want to do is celebrate and 18thIndianapolis 500 if I can.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage