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 was 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.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”