For a man that has accomplished everything in an auto racing career that goes all the way back to his days as a race driver in the 1950s, Roger Penske was able to do one more thing he had never achieved Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
It was the first time in Penske Racing’s history that the team has won the NASCAR Cup Series championship in back-to-back seasons. It was also the second time Team Penske won the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in the same season.
The last time that happened was in 2018 when Will Power won the Indianapolis 500 and Joey Logano won the first of his two NASCAR Cup Series Championships with Team Penske.
Last year, was the first time Team Penske won the IndyCar Series Championship and the NASCAR Cup Series title in the same season with Power winning in IndyCar and Logano the NASCAR Cup Series title.
Ryan Blaney finished second to race winner Ross Chastain in the NASCAR Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on November 5 to give Penske his fourth Cup Championship, the first time in consecutive seasons.
Penske Racing now has a record 44 National Championships in all forms of racing since the team began in 1966. Seventeen of those championships have come in IndyCar as well as 19 Indianapolis 500 victories – both records.
In NASCAR, it’s a different game. Penske didn’t win his first NASCAR Cup Series Championship until 2012 with Brad Keselowski as a driver. Six years later, he got his second and four years after that his third.
It took just 12 months for Penske to get his fourth NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
“Back-to-back shows the strength of our organization,” Penske said. “We really weren’t that strong in the middle part of the season. As Jonathan (Hassler, crew chief) and the engineering team, along with Ford, helped us get better and better, you could see how well the Fords ran even here today, I think it was a combination of many things.
“For me, personally that is what we’re here for. We love the competition, we love the stress, but also, we like a day to sit down here like this and say we’re champions.”
The stakes are high, the competition is difficult, and the fields are deep.
That is why Penske loves to compete.
“Well, we’ve had a lot of championships, but the level that we’re racing in NASCAR today, I’ve never seen it before,” Penske said afterwards at Phoenix Raceway. “My great friend Rick Hendrick, I think he has (14.)
“We’re excited to have four. Long way to go.”
In other forms of racing, such as the old Can-Am Series, then CART/IndyCar and even in IMSA and World Endurance Championship (WEC), it didn’t take long for Penske to become dominant.
But in NASCAR, it took a while.
Once Team Penske reached the pinnacle in NASCAR, it has been able to maintain that status.
“I would say as we were gaining momentum in NASCAR, NASCAR was changing,” Penske explained. “Technically I think it moved our direction where we had the cross-pollination, the previous question whether it’s sports car or IndyCar.
“As we got into this, we built this solid team.
“You think about it, over 10 years we’ve had some really strong cars. I think it’s all about the people, them staying with us. Obviously, the Ford Motor Company has supported us tremendously during the switch, if you look at where we’ve been.”
Penske was able to bring another great American businessman into a championship celebration with him. It was John Menard, the owner of the Menards chain of home improvement stores that dominate its category in the Midwest.
Menards is one of Penske’s partners, and a key sponsor of Team Penske’s racing operation.
“To me, it’s continuity with our people, it’s the sponsors,” Penske said. “You look at John Menard who has been at Indy as long as I have. To see him win this today, these are the things you can’t buy. It’s all about performance.
“I think that’s what we’re all about as a company. I certainly feel that way. We’re just fortunate to be on a playground where we all can race like we did today.
“I see this young group of guys coming up, the average age is 27 or 28, it might be the new breed, but you could see racing Truex, racing these guys out there, there’s a lot of respect for all four of ’em.
“To me, we’re just glad to be in the bunch.”
Even at 86, Penske has lofty goals.
That is what has driven Penske to become one of the top business leaders in the United States. Penske Corporation specializes in the transportation industry with its vast group of automotive dealerships. Penske Truck Rental and Penske Logistics are one of the leading trucking firms in the nation.
Auto racing is what Penske calls his “golf game” and since November 4, 2019, Penske has owned the most famous race course in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Well, as you know, we’re racers,” Penske said. “My dad took me to Indianapolis 1951 as a kid. I see a lot of kids out there with their parents. I think I was injected at that point about racing.
“Obviously winning at Indy is something.
“You guys follow this sport. It is tough. You talk about 38 weekends or 38 races or competitions, and you got to be at your best. You could see it today. Here is the 20 car (Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing), which could have been a winner today, had a mechanical problem.
“We had some pit stops where guys maybe were a little bit quicker, ours weren’t bad.”
Just as Logano did in 2022, Blaney did the same in 2023 by peaking at the right time. The team performed at its best at the right time of the season and it powered Team Penske all the way to another championship.
“The good news is I think we learned how to win,” Penske explained. “Blaney learned how to win over the last couple months. You’ve seen that. I think he’s matured to be a champion.
“When you see guys like Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott come up to him in the winner’s circle and congratulate him, he’s a key guy in that garage area and will set a lot of standards for other drivers coming up.
“To me, he showed how good he is today to everybody, not just our team and Jonathan (Hassler) and myself. When you think about Jonathan coming with us here, really been with us a long time, having the chance to take that step up, ‘Look, you and Blaney are going to get together.’ They didn’t know. They’ve been a tremendous combination. I think that’s what we have at Indy, too.”
There are many reasons for Penske’s success and it’s similar to the same philosophy that Penske uses in his business empire.
“We have one thing, we got continuity and low turnover,” he explained. “Half the people at Team Penske have been there over 10 years. Hendrick’s organization, some of the other that have success.”
In addition to Hassler on the radio, communicating with Blaney, Penske was also keeping an eye on the action from one of the suites high atop Phoenix Raceway.
As Blaney was getting nervous and frustrated that he couldn’t pass Chastain for the race lead, Penske calmly reminded him that he didn’t need to win the race to win the championship.
“Other than the spotter, I have the right to give him a couple shots one way or the other,” Penske said. “He was running fine. He was concerned that he was being backed up by the 1 (Chastain) obviously to the 5 (Championship contender Kyle Larson), which he really wasn’t.
“I was calming him down. He was doing a great job. The guys, Jonathan, the team, good pit stops, good strategy on getting their car right.
“It’s more to say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job. I told him before the race, Win, lose or draw, you’re a champion.’”
Penske has earned the nickname, “The Captain” because he is a captain of industry and the leader of the race team.
“I think the captain had to stay cool. He was the coolest guy on the ship,” Penske said with a smile. “I would say I probably was cool. Inside I was turning over, counting the laps. Seven to go.
“Finally, our man said, ‘Seven to go.’ He had a nice lead at that point.
“I was waiting for the yellow. How about you?”
Penske doesn’t celebrate accomplishments very long. He is driven to the next challenge, the next deal that can be made in business, the next race that can be won.
He achieved one of them on a Sunday evening in the Arizona desert with Blaney’s first NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
But Penske is never satisfied.
There is always more to accomplish.
“IndyCar championships, NASCAR championships, they just go down in the book,” Penske said. “We got to get one next year.”