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With sale complete, Roger Penske bullish on future of IndyCar, Speedway

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The Captain likes what he sees in the waters ahead of him.

Roger Penske made a special guest appearance Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Trading Paint” and is very bullish on what’s ahead for the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Penske recently acquired both entities in a sale from Hulman & Co. that officially closed this past Monday. 

“I looked at it as an opportunity,” Penske told co-hosts John Roberts and Chocolate Myers. “And to me, if the legacy can go down that we can take this track, none of us can say whether we did a better job than they did after 74 years.

“I guess my first grade card is how we do in the first year in making a difference at the track in 2020. We’re completely focused on that. We’re going to make several millions of dollars of investments before the month of May. It’s not to create more revenue or profit bottom-line, it’s entirely what can we do to make the guest and fan experience better.

“That’s what we want to do. We have a number of things on our mind and we’re going to announce a lot of those things on 100 days out. We’ll have some announcements that will be exciting and hopefully the experience will be what we expect to provide to the guests that come to the track.”

The voice of the normally stoic Penske cracked slightly when asked what he thought when the sale was complete and the pride of 16th and Georgetown in Indianapolis was his after 74 years of ownership by the Hulman-George family.

“I did one thing,” he said, as his voice slightly quivered. “I looked up in the sky and said to my dad, ‘thanks’ because he took me there (for the first time) when I was 14 years old.”

He then continued about the significance of the track where his teams have captured a record 18 Indianapolis 500s.

“I’ve been there every year since that day in ’51,” Penske said. “It’s amazing what it brings to us. It’s an amazing place and certainly from our family, my son Greg who was very important in building California Speedway.

“I was fortunate here on the (January) 7th after we completed the transaction to be invited by the governor to go downtown and go to the (Indiana state) Senate along with Tony (George), Mark Miles, my son Greg and I and have the Senate read and approve a declaration of the day and many of the senators got up and spoke about the history of the Speedway and their families, and then we did the same thing at the House. It was just amazing.

“Understand that this is the Holy Grail of the state of Indiana. They told stories about being in the state of Alaska in 1981 when Bobby Unser won the race and then they took it away because they looked at TV and said he passed when he blended — and they were arguing about it in Alaska.

“You just think about the reach of this place. Our responsibility is it’s a treasure, it’s iconic and something from my perspective it’s just exactly what built our brand. … Certainly winning there 18 years, finally winning the Brickyard, winning on the road course, you can’t just say it happens. It takes so many great people that have given us the opportunities to be winners, so I just have to thank them. And I thank my dad … and here we are.”

Penske is also equally bullish on the future of NASCAR as the series begins to implement a number of changes over the next few years.

Those include the change from one series entitlement sponsor as in past seasons in favor of four across the course of the year, as well as a revised schedule (with the potential of more schedule alterations in 2021 and beyond).

There’s also the highly anticipated next-generation car slated for 2021, a push to attract additional car manufacturers and more new sponsors and an industry-wide focus on cost cutting.

“One of the main things NASCAR is trying to do is take costs out,” Penske said. “People say speed costs money, how fast do you want to go? But I think we’re at a limit where we have to go the other way.

“To me, the cost is key. The schedule is going to be different, I understand, but its also going to give other teams the ability to raise sponsorships and if the costs are cut by 30 or 40 percent, it’s going to allow new people to join the sport, which I feel is very, very important as we go forward.

“We need new owners, more new drivers that want to come in with maybe a new team, some of the new things they’ve announced on pit stops, and there’s a lot of discussions going on with NASCAR.”

Another area that Penske, who turns 83 next month, is also very bullish is even closer to home: the shakeup of shifting all three NASCAR Cup crew chiefs in his organization earlier this week:

“You have to look at the talent you have both on and off the track and people have been together a number of years,” Penske said. “It’s like any person in any job, people like a change and it motivates them.

“We felt we had three great guys and great drivers and we said, ‘Let’s change it up this year and let’s see what happens.’ This isn’t because anybody asked for it or not. … We sat down and said what can we do differently than to have a bigger spoiler or engine that can motivate our guys going forward. It was pretty much made before Christmas … and the guys are off and running.

“I think it’s good. You see people moving crew chiefs and drivers moving around, but this is part of our business plan and part of the way we run our business.”

To further illustrate Team Penske’s one-for-all and all-for-one mantra, the organization’s patriarch said there were no objections among the three crew chiefs that they were shifted, nor from their drivers.

“I don’t know who spun out or didn’t because they wouldn’t tell me, but everybody reported to work so that’s the only true test I can have,” Penske said with a laugh, before drawing serious again. “Everybody was on it and wanted to go forward.

“So let’s see what the result is. It’s going to be interesting. When you start working with someone new, there’s new ideas and it’s not the same old, same old. This business is moving so fast, we have to be better as a whole team, not just crew chiefs and drivers.

“We had a good season, it wasn’t a bad season, but it wasn’t a championship season and we’re in the business of winning championships. … Sometimes it makes sense to give someone another opportunity in another job and that’s what we did.”

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Charlie Kimball joins A.J. Foyt Racing; Tony Kanaan expected back

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A.J. Foyt has hired Charlie Kimball to drive its No. 4 Chevrolet in the 2020 NTT IndyCar season.

Kimball will return to a full-time schedule after seven races last season with Carlin Racing. This will mark his 10th consecutive season of driving in IndyCar. In 141 starts, he has one victory (in 2013 at Mid-Ohio).

“I would not have survived — and I’m not sure my marriage would have survived — another year on a partial schedule,” Kimball said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “Because it was really tough on me last year watching in races when I wasn’t in the car. The consistency allows me to stay in the rhythm.”

A.J. Foyt Racing fielded cars last year for Matheus Leist in the No. 4 and Tony Kanaan in the No. 14. Team president Larry Foyt told reporters that the No. 14 car’s 2020 schedule was “a work in progress and hopefully have some news on that in the next few weeks.”

Asked if Kanaan, who has driven for Foyt since 2018, still will be with the team, Foyt said, “I’m sure he will. We’ve been working together and getting everything buttoned up.”

Here’s the full release from A.J. Foyt Racing:

Veteran IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball joins AJ Foyt Racing as the full-time driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet with backing from his long-time sponsor Novo Nordisk. The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season marks Kimball’s 10th consecutive season in IndyCar and his 12th season of partnership with the global healthcare company.

Kimball, who ran a partial season of seven races in 2019, returns as a full-time driver in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series this year. The No. 4 car will carry a Novo Nordisk branded livery in the following races: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, GMR Grand Prix (Indianapolis), Texas Indy 600 (Ft. Worth), Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway (Madison, Ill.) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Novo Nordisk will be an associate marketing partner in the remaining 11 races.

“I’m excited and honored to join AJ Foyt Racing and be a part of a team that has such deep roots in history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar,” said Kimball, who lives in Indianapolis. “Continuing the partnership with Novo Nordisk is also special since they have been an integral part of my career since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I’m more motivated than ever to work with the team to succeed at every IndyCar race in 2020. Thank you to AJ Foyt Racing, Novo Nordisk and our other partners for this opportunity.”

Team President Larry Foyt expects the partnership with Novo Nordisk and the addition of Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar Series race winner at Mid-Ohio (2013) and a pole winner at Texas Motor Speedway (2017), to invigorate his No. 4 Texas-based team this season.

“Charlie brings a great deal of experience and skill to the team,” Foyt said. “He is motivated to show what he can do behind the wheel, and his recent experience of helping develop cars will be beneficial as we work to get the 4 car moving up the grid. Novo Nordisk has been a long-time supporter of Charlie and IndyCar. We want to welcome them to AJ Foyt Racing and we look forward to joining them in their effort to increase the awareness of diabetes.”

Kimball has posted six podium (top-3) finishes, and an additional eight top-5s. He has finished in the top-10 (6th through 10th) 41 times and has led 163 laps in 141 races.

“We are proud to continue our long-term partnership with Charlie Kimball and look forward to an exciting 2020 IndyCar season with the legendary AJ Foyt Racing,” said Brian Hilberdink, Senior Vice President, Commercial Diabetes at Novo Nordisk. “For more than a decade, we’ve utilized our involvement in IndyCar to share Charlie’s inspiring journey living with diabetes through the Race with Insulin initiative. Charlie is one of the most active ambassadors in the diabetes community and his passion and commitment to making a difference in the lives of those who are living with diabetes is unwavering. We look forward to continuing this tradition with AJ Foyt Racing, Charlie and the diabetes community throughout the IndyCar season.”

Foyt expects to make further announcements regarding new primary sponsors for the team in the near future.