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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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Lucas Oil Late Models, All Star Sprints postpone April events

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In separate press releases, the Lucas Oil Late Model series and the All Star Circuit of Champions announced the postponement of their April schedules.

Both releases cite extended federal social distancing guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the postponements and cancelations.

For the Lucas Oil Late Model series, the extension affects races at Hagerstown Speedway (originally scheduled for April 18), Port Royal Speedway (April 19), Tri-City Speedway (April 24), and Macon Speedway (April 25). The series hopes to resume the original schedule on May 1st at Ponderosa Speedway and May 2nd at Florence Speedway.

Port Royal Speedway’s Rumble by the River, originally scheduled for April 19th, has been postponed until Thursday, August 27th.

The Nininger Tribute at Hagerstown Speedway, scheduled for April 18th, has now been canceled. Also canceled are the Budweiser 50 at Tri-City Speedway scheduled for April 24th and the April 25th event at Macon Speedway.

At this time, races are set to resume on May 1 at Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City, Kentucky. Backup dates have been announced for Ponderosa (September 4) and Florence Speedway (August 12) should they be needed.

The events affected for the All Star Circuit of Champions include Attica Raceway Park’s Spring Nationals (April 10-11), Thursday Night Thunder at Virginia Motor Speedway (April 16), the Tommy Hinnershitz Classic at Williams Grove Speedway (April 17), the Keith Kauffman Classic at Port Royal Speedway (April 18), the Johnny Grum Classic at Bedford Speedway (April 19) and the season’s first visit to Wayne County Speedway (April 25).

Series and track officials are working together to find suitable make-up dates.

“We are all in the same boat with every other sanctioning body and sports league in America right now and we want to be part of the solution and abide by state orders and federal guidelines,” said Tony Stewart, owner of the All Stars in a press release. “Originally, we were going to take a week-to-week approach, but with the stay at home orders in certain states and social distancing guidelines, it made sense to postpone the month of April. We aren’t going to put anyone on the road and at risk until we are given the green light by state and federal officials. Thank you to the tracks for the open lines of communication over the past few weeks. We hope to reschedule as many dates as possible once we are able to return to racing.”

Conditions permitting, the All Star Circuit of Champions will begin their 2020 championship point season on Friday and Saturday, May 1-2, with visits to Lernerville Speedway and Sharon Speedway, respectively.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter