NASCAR & Auto Racing

Roger Penske savors fountain of youth in his NASCAR drivers

Joey Logano (right) celebrated with team owner Roger Penske after winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Joey Logano (right) celebrated with team owner Roger Penske after winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Associated Press

Roger Penske’s scoreboard now reads: 15 Indianapolis 500 wins. Two Daytona 500 wins.

But the owner of Team Penske was hard-pressed to differentiate the gratification between winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing or The Great American Race.

“Well, these are the two greatest races here in the United States,” Penske said in the afterglow of Joey Logano winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday. “Just to say that we competed for as many years as we have, both at Indy and Daytona, is something that I’ll never forget. Obviously, I’d love to win both these races in the same year. You set those kind of goals for yourself.

“As we’ve competed in NASCAR for so many years and come up short here … to win this race at all is something special.”

Penske, a winner of 12 championships in IndyCar racing, took 17 years to win his first Daytona 500 with Ryan Newman in 2008 and 22 years to capture his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title, when Brad Keselowski won the Chase in 2012.

But now, with Keselowski, 31, and Logano, 24 — two drivers young enough to be his grandsons — Penske, 78, seems to be rejuvenated as a car owner.

“You need youth today in your business; you need youth today on the racetrack,” said Penske, who is bidding to become the first owner to win both IndyCar and Sprint Cup championships in the same season. “People we hire are ones that want to stay with us. We support them. We’re going to have ups and downs.

“Personally for me, I like seeing these people compete and elevate themselves in the company. That’s what I look for. I’ve won a lot of races. But I love to compete with Rick (Hendrick), with (Richard) Childress, (Joe) Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, because the camaraderie off the racetrack is amazing. But when you get to the racetrack you got to have your game on.”

Penske has attributed the recent NASCAR success, which also includes a 2010 Xfinity Series title by Keselowski, to moving the IndyCar operations to the same shop as the NASCAR teams in Charlotte, N.C.

Keselowski came on board in the Sprint Cup series in 2010, and at the end of the 2012 season, he suggested Penske hire Logano, who was losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, to take the seat in the No. 22 Ford formerly shared by AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr.

Logano had won just twice in 145 starts as the heir apparent to Tony Stewart at Gibbs, and he was being let go to make room for Matt Kenseth.

“Well, I knew that he had raced for a great team,” Penske said. “He was very successful in the Nationwide or Busch Series (now Xfinity), I forget the name, it changes every year. Anyhow, he knew how to win races. He had Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin there. He was the young guy in the crowd. Brad was a big part of this, putting his arm around Joey, saying, ‘Come onto our team and help us build this.’”

“I knew he was going to be a team player. That’s what’s paid off. There’s great transparency for us. You saw what he did last year. This is just the start, I think, of a career. He’s going to be a guy at the top for a long time.

Logano won just one race in 2013 for Team Penske but qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time. Last season, he won a career-best five times, including the fall race at Kansas Speedway. He had a chance to win the Chase but finished fourth, mainly due to a poor pit stop, in the winner-take-all finale at Homestead-Miami.

Logano acknowledged the move to Penske changed his career from being an overrated driver to one of the sport’s elite competitors.

“Sometimes God just throws you situations and you don’t know why, but you just got to roll with the punches and it turns out to be the best,” Logano said. “It’s no secret that I got thrown into the series too young, inexperienced, didn’t know what I had to do.

“Obviously, the switch over to Team Penske — the best move of my career. To be here, get teamed up with a great team, it was an opportunity for me to regroup, be who I wanted to be as an adult, not an 18-year-old kid anymore.”

Now that Logano has given Penske a second Daytona 500 win, the only thing left on Penske’s to-do list is win a Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“That’s something that has gotten away from us,” Penske said. “We’ve gotten close a couple of times. Jeff Gordon seems to have the combination there. Maybe when he retires, we’ll have a chance. … That would be real special.”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @randycovitz.

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