A Captain’s rudderless ship
The past couple of months haven’t been the greatest for one of the biggest names in auto racing, Roger Penske. Sure, his teams won the first four races of the IZOD indyCar Series season and pole position for the Indianapolis 500; sure Brad Keselowski has been exceptional on the racetrack during the “regular” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season – and not too shabby in Twitter-ville.
Since Indy, it’s been catastrophe city for Penske, both on the track and off. First came the AJ Allmendinger affair. Allmendinger, the standout open wheel driver who defected to NASCAR after an exemplary 2006 Champ Car season, was hired by Penske to replace irascible Kurt Busch for 2012. Busch, a driver with incredible talents in a race car is a man doomed to let his lack of mental acuity and emotional fortitude overcome his innate car control.
Penske hoped Allmendinger would be the un-Busch, but when a random drug test came back positive for what we – much, much later – learned was FDA-approved stimulant Adderall, the ride changed hands to journeyman Sam Hornish Jr, who’s been driving successfully for Penske in NASCAR’s second tier Nationwide Series this year, currently fourth in the standings. Hornish has been doing a workmanlike job for The Captain, but neither he nor Allmendinger is anywhere near Busch’s NASCAR racing capabilities.
The 2013 driver for Penske’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion will be announced after the next round of musical chairs. It better be someone that can make the Chase for the Championship with one hand behind his back; the sponsor pretty much demands and deserves that kind of talent; Penske’s own chain of command demands and deserves that level of talent – and, hopefully fortitude.
It’s quite enough to have issues with a race team; those are quantifiable problems that can be tackled by well chosen team members – like Penske Racing president Tim Cindric – in the trenches.
Now Penske has to deal with the problems of family members, after sons Jay, owner of IZOD indyCar Series race team Dragon Racing and Mark were arrested early Thursday in Nantucket for conduct unbecoming the heirs to a jelly jar, much less the myriad businesses interests Penske holds. Caught with their pants literally down and spraying to all fields – sorry, shoes – Jay and Mark were arrested but later released on recognizance. After dumping piss on a woman’s shoes in this altercation, the boys ran to the Nantucket Yacht Club, breaking into the area’s guest house and therefore arrested.
What will happen with Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing team, a group that began the season racing with Lotus power and jumped – with attorneys filing suits and horns blasting – to Chevrolet at Indianapolis? Well, that’s anyone’s guess at the moment, but Dragon Racing, a two-car team with a single engine lease intended to field both Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy cars with four-time Champ Car titleholder Sebastien Bourdais and INDYCAR rookie Katherine Legge at the Raceway in Sonoma the end of the month.
The track is near current partner McAfee and other prestigious Silicon Valley prospects for future Dragon Racing partnerships in the future. Jay Penske’s rude and crude activities will do him no good in a quest to augment McAfee and TrueCar.com on his two Indy cars; it’ll be a wonder if he keeps either or both of them after this fiasco.
As with the Allmendinger instance, there’s been no comment from the Penske camp over the past day since news broke about the boys’ night out adventure. While the woman whose shoe was ruined by Jay Penske’s piss isn’t pressing charges the Nantucket police will likely throw the comic book at Jay and Mark, thanks to Roger’s ability to spread wealth to cover problems like this.
The larger question remains of what will happen to Roger Penske’s NASCAR team and Jay Penske’s INDYCAR team, which is a member of the financially vested Leader’s Circle program for a full-season entry. The underlying personal problems each team faces has ramifications throughout the respective paddocks.
What does Roger Penske do to stabilize his lead Sprint Cup team and keep his sponsors happy? NASCAR has already done its duties in reprimanding both Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger for their illegal and/or improper activities.
What does Jay Penske do to revive his personal and professional stature as a viable team owner whose program is attractive to partners? What does INDYCAR do to let Jay Penske know that his actions are unbecoming to the series?
Silence from the Indianapolis headquarters of INDYCAR is demonstrative of the relative laxity the series has used in the past to quiet similar disasters. The longer those lips remain zipped, the more difficult it will be for INDYCAR and all of its entities to advance the cause of open wheel racing.
Photos and Words By Anne Proffit