Two months ago, Roger Penske came oh so close to celebrating the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship with Verizon Team Penske driver Will Power.
That season-long effort fell four points short, but the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history finally got to celebrate a championship in a series he started competing in 40 years ago. Penske won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title Nov. 18 with driver Brad Keselowski.
As an Indy car team owner he has made success look easy at times. But in stock cars he acknowledges that is oh so difficult, which is why he feels such satisfaction.
“Well, personally I feel amazing that I've been able to achieve this in racing,” Penske said. “I've lauded the people that have been on that stage for so many years in Las Vegas and New York, and to be able to join this elite group and say that I'm a champion in NASCAR means a lot, and certainly as I said earlier it takes a lot of people. But I think it took the guts for me to stay in the sport. We could have thought, 'Well, we won the Indy 500 15 times and we're a big deal,' but I'll tell you one thing: Until you get here and you compete at the top and win it, you really know what's happened, and I think I just woke up here tonight and it's a big thrill.”
Penske’s cars and drivers have won a record 15 Indianapolis 500s, 12 Indy car championships in USAC, CART and the IZOD IndyCar Series. For the man whose teams dominated Trans-Am, achieved historic success in Indy car racing and is the last American team owner to field his own car in Formula One, Penske can now celebrate the one championship that eluded him for so long.
No one understands the stature of the Indianapolis 500 better than Penske, but considering the time and effort it took to claim NASCAR’s biggest prize, he places the Sprint Cup title in a pretty high category. Penske won a NASCAR race at Riverside, Calif., with 1972 Indianapolis 500 winner Mark Donohue in 1973. It was the first of 76 wins in the series.
“(The championship is) a goal that I had,” Penske said. “You could see that it wasn't easy."
Penske has been a master at building successful businesses and race teams by what he calls the “human capital.”
“It's not how much money you put into your race team, it's all about the people and the human capital, and I guess Brad is right at the top,” Penske said. “When he came in and said, 'Look, I want to help you build a championship team,' he looked me in the eye and shook my hand, and that's how we started. There's no question that he's delivered way above what both of us probably thought was possible when you look at the competition and what we have to deal with.
“For me, this is what I love, taking people within at organization and seeing them flourish, and he certainly has today.”
Last week, Penske compared Keselowski to four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears and three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves as well as Donohue.
“I think I've got a long ways to go to keep up with those guys, and there's a lot of work to be done,” Keselowski said of the impressive comparisons. “I feel like we're still at the beginning. I don't feel like ‑‑ you can't judge something off the beginning. You know, if you were building a house and you just looked at the foundation, it doesn't look like much of anything. I feel like we're very early. We've got the cement poured, and I want to keep building.”