A long Indy 500 journey reaches Victory Circle for John Menard

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INDIANAPOLIS – After celebrating in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Victory Circle with his winning driver, the billionaire industrialist naturally jetted off to Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch another of his race cars.

Roger Penske?

No, “The Captain” monitored Team Penske’s performance in the Coca-Cola 600 from afar and stayed in Indianapolis to celebrate Simon Pagenaud’s victory, the 18th in the Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske.

FULL INDIANAPOLIS 500 COVERAGE: All of NBCSports.com’s 2019 stories over two weeks in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

The traveling man was John Menard, the namesake founder of the home improvement chain that sponsors Pagenaud’s car and his son Paul’s Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Sunday marked John Menard’s second win as a sponsor at the Brickyard (where Paul won in 2011) but his first in the series where he first planted his company’s flag 40 years ago.

“You ever watch that movie called ‘The Candidate’ when that guy works and works and works and finally gets elected, after the election, he won, and he gazed into the mirror and says, ‘What the hell do I do now?’ That’s the way I feel,” Menard said. “We’ll go try to win another one.”

The Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native recalled dragging a sponsor sign to his first Indy 500 in 1979 and begging an Indianapolis Motor Speedway worker to let Menard through the garage gate without a credential.

“He goes, ‘Where are you going with that sign and I said, ‘I want to get in the garage area,’” Menard said. “So he unlocked the gate and let me in. I didn’t have a credential. I didn’t know where I was going. I said which way is the garage area? I think he thought I was crazy, but we had a good time.”

Over the past four decades, Menard has sponsored cars for IndyCar contenders such as Tony Stewart, Greg Ray and Robby Gordon, and he also owned part-time NASCAR efforts in the Cup (with Gordon) and truck series.

In 2018, he moved his NASCAR sponsorship from Richard Childress Racing to Team Penske and its alliance team, Wood Brothers Racing, after sponsoring Penske’s IndyCar teams for a few years.

“John and I have been around here a long time,” said Penske, who was celebrating his 50th year at Indy in 2019. “I’ve watched him and he watched me and a couple years ago, we said, ‘Look, maybe we’d do better together. Finally it took a couple years, but John, to see the Menards logo and certainly your excitement and commitment to the sport for so many years is terrific, and we could bring home a winner with you and you with our guys. Just tremendous.

“You’ve got a great brand. You’re a great person, your family, and obviously Paul is a key guy on our team down in the south, so we can’t say enough.”

INDYCAR Photo by John CoteSaid Pagenaud, whose No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet has sported the day-glo colors of Menards since 2017: “John Menard, he’s been trying so hard. I felt so bad that we didn’t get one for him already, so finally getting one for him is very special.

“Having that livery is very cool because people notice the car so easily. It’s so great for all that he’s done for the sport. He’s done so much. He deserves to get a Borg-Warner, so I’m very proud to be the driver.”
Drinking the winner’s milk with Pagenaud, whom he called “just one wonderful human being,” was special for Menard.

But it still might rank behind kissing the bricks at Indy with his son.

“That’s family,” Menard said. “That was probably the highlight of my personal racing career just because it was my son that won. But this ranks right in there. I’ll tell you what, this is a good deal, and I can’t thank Team Penske, I can’t thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway enough for all the great memories and times and over the years that we’ve had here. It’s amazing.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.