IRL: Indy 500: Fast Friday press conference - Team Penske, part 1

91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE Helio Castroneves, Tim Cindric, Sam Hornish Jr., Rick Mears, Roger Penske Friday, May 11, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: It's always great to have Team Penske with us, including two giants...

91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
Helio Castroneves, Tim Cindric, Sam Hornish Jr., Rick Mears, Roger Penske
Friday, May 11, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MODERATOR: It's always great to have Team Penske with us, including two giants of the Speedway. Obviously, Roger, with 14 victories here and Rick Mears, a four-time winner at Indianapolis. We know Roger is on a particularly tight schedule. The drivers will join us after the drivers' meeting has concluded, but our plan is to jump right into questions for these two, with an acknowledgment that Roger at the very least may have to leave because he has an 11 o'clock appointment, I believe.

Q: You've been running fast all week. Talk about how excited you are to see your son get involved with this?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, this kind of came out of Jay's interest, you know, in the sport. He came here as a young boy, obviously hanging around as we were at the track, and you know, through his business, had a relationship with Steve Russo, who was the founder, not Counter Peripherals but Seagate, and they decided they would like to run a car and they had a sponsor.

So, you know, we went through the proper channels and were able to supply them a car. You know, Ryan Briscoe obviously is a driver that is associated with our ALMS team and the package went together and some of those people, Nigel Bennett works on the Porsche team and some of the other folks who are on the weekly circuit there are here at the Speedway. But that's what we're focusing on our two cars, and the yellow car kind of looks like Mears there (inaudible) when he's coming down the track. But that's worked out well so far, and Briscoe has done a good job and Nigel. And of course Jay Signore, who ran in IROC and has been with me, I don't know how many, 25 or 30 years is heading up that operation. So you know, they have got a lot of experience in that garage, and I think we want to see them do well.

Q: I was going to ask you about Jay, can you expand on that a little bit, he's old school?

PENSKE: Well, he has been with me when we had a small shop in Reading and we were running Trans-Am, we were running Indy and we were running Can-Am, running NASCAR out of the same shop. So I guess we have evolved into the same thing now down in North Carolina, not quite our old series, but he's done a great job. He and Barbara have been involved with IROC. He kept that going.

It's gotten more difficult here in the last several years trying to get sponsors to support that series. The attention on trying to get drivers (inaudible), overall it's been a successful series, and this has been a great chance for him to go on vacation. I told him to go down to Indy (inaudible), so it's good to have him here.

Q: It looks like this will be the first time we'll have a chance to do the new qualifying format. First, your opinion of the new format with the 11 cars, and has the team sat down now and rethought your strategy or will you approach it like you have in years past?

PENSKE: The strategy is a good one, you know. We employed this same strategy even when there were 33, you know, where you could pull out, and the nice thing is you've got three chances here to requalify. I think it's terrific. It will bring some real excitement. There's 15, 16, 17 cars that would like to get in the top 11 positions, and I think the interest for the fans that did take the time to come out here tomorrow will see a great day.

And I don't know what the speeds are going to be, but we know exactly, we've talked about it, Cindric is obviously really the guy behind the scenes that we really sit down with the drivers. It's a tough decision, though, once you've qualified here, more than the race, you can get yourself caught up into the qualifying mode and miss the whole race. And, you know, we've kind of seen it this week, you get out here running these cars with these wings, very little downforce on them and you can get yourself in trouble pretty quick. Rick knows that a couple times when we've been going too fast.

We are going to try to get ourselves ready today and then go tomorrow, but I'm going to take a real good look at it. I don't think that if you have one little car that looks like it can be a pole contender and maybe they didn't execute once, might go out and throw them out one more time. But you might see the top guy, if one portion is good enough at the top and you know that yourself, I wouldn't go out and throw a time away. I would say, look, I'm in the race, didn't qualify in the race in the first two or three rows, that's where the winner typically comes out of normally, so I would not want to risk something. Coming in those four laps, you're probably more on the edge as a driver than you are during the whole month.

Q: As one of the top team owners in NEXTEL Cup, do you have any interest in getting in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. bidding contest, and if not, where do you think he'll end up?

PENSKE: Well, I was interested to see that announcement as we all were here this week. We saw something brewing over the last several weeks. I think it's a real asset that DEI has lost because he's a talented driver, and certainly from the fans, the heritage from his dad and the job that he's done just under the pressure that he has as an individual -- forget the on-track stuff, just as an individual, that his life changed, and to be able to execute the way he has; he's taken a big step here. Theresa obviously had to make a business decision, and he had to make a step to go on. Obviously he's a driver that, you know, has a big future going forward.

And I read about Hendricks, I read good Gibbs, I read about Childress, a number of teams who might have interest. I think everybody has interest in Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join their team. You know, we're a Dodge team, we have drivers under contract today, and we're not in a situation that we would probably be in line to offer him a job. I mean, we'd sure like to talk with him. Just the comments that I read in the paper, he might know more than I do that he wants to be with Chevrolet when we have a contract with Dodge. And when we have contracts, and as you know, we stay with them. So, you know that, would be my comment.

Q: Along those lines, there seems to be a trend of open-wheel drivers going over to NASCAR, and could you talk about that, and also, you know, how much of a threat is that to the IRL as the IRL people try to build this series?

PENSKE: Well, let me say this. I feel a nice momentum at IRL right now. I think as we went to Homestead, we moved that race to the night race, you talk to the promoter, the promoter was very happy with the results, the crowd was better; he knows the numbers. You and I don't know the numbers, typically, but he did, and I talked to Jim France and he thought it was a successful weekend.

The St. Pete race was terrific. The city is behind it. Kansas City we had one of the best attendances that we've had in a long time there. So I see that, you know, from the lead perspective and now you come here to Indy, and now the point is, do we build to Indy and then do we drop off.

You know, I think there's a lot of things happening. We're excited about having you guys come to Detroit, and we are going to try to provide a racetrack there, like when you came to California the first time, that were the right pieces for the drivers, the fans. So there's a lot of investment now from a driver perspective.

Now, drivers are going to go where they think they can build their reputation and maybe build from an economic perspective. You know, Sam, he's running some (NASCAR) races for us. We haven't made any decision, there's no decision, but I said the only way we're really going to know what you want to do is to go try it. You know, he's had a little success, a tough break this past week, but again we are on a track.

I don't see everybody just climbing out of their IndyCar and going to NASCAR, because I can tell you one thing: It's a big, high fence to jump to get in as a driver. Just don't go down there. Maybe the old days you could, but today, you go down there and just watch the qualifying and watch what goes on. You ask Montoya; he's a terrific driver, and I'm sure he'll tell you it's probably the toughest racing he's ever done. So I don't think you're going to see a mass exodus from open-wheel; In fact, I would say just the opposite.

Q: You were just commenting when you walked in here about how you came here in 1951, what was the allure of the Speedway, as a young kid, and also, now if you can win a 15th, would that be a nice, round figure to say goodbye to IndyCar racing?

PENSKE: Let me answer the last question first. I would love to win the 15th, but if I do, I guarantee I'll be back next year. I'm not in any position that I have any long-term or short-term plans to get out. I'm going to come here as long as I can. I think it's the most motivating thing that we do to come to Indianapolis and race, and I think the success here is because of the people we've been able to put together.

You know, my interest was as a kid that back in those days, I loved cars, and my dad worked for a company that represented International Nickel Company, and they were lap sponsors. I guess in those races, probably a hundred dollars a lap or maybe 50, I gave them a couple of tickets. And I remember we arrived here late and went over to their home of someone who had given him the tickets and there was a car there, it was like, in fact, they had a show car in those days. It was one of the old cars with no engine and they had a hat, put the Cromwell on; maybe that was the heat of the track and couldn't see the cars go by because we were so low, the seats were so low coming into the fourth turn, but I have a little better view today. When you go back and you think about that, I was here every year from that point on up until when we weren't here for three or four years when we had the split. So I've been here and seeing the revolution what's taken place here, but I'll be back.

Q: Rick, you're the pole leader here, you have the pole record, was this the format, would you have added a few poles? How do you think that would have probably worked out, how would you have liked having this format back when you were driving?

RICK MEARS: You know, at the end of the day, I don't think it would change as far as ... it does give the a couple other guys maybe a couple other shot at that time, it but it still boils down to the same thing: The guy that put the best car and the best four laps is the guy that's going to sit on the pole.

I think having another shot at it doesn't necessarily mean you can gain what you need a lot of times. So I don't think it really changes much in that respect. It's still going to boil down to whoever would have gotten it one way is probably the same guy that's going to get it the other way.

I think it's just going to add a lot more excitement for the fact and track activity and things going on, which will be a big plus. And I'm excited. We've been wanting to get it in for the last two years, and the weather has stopped us each time. I've been excited about it ever since it was announced and really looking forward to seeing how it turns out this year.

PENSKE: You know, we've pulled out a lot, so we've done almost the same thing in kind of the reverse order. We've not taken our time. I remember pulling Rick out a couple of times. Helio pulled out two or three years ago, and then was able to run for the pole at quarter to six.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Rick Mears , Ryan Briscoe , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske