Team Penske Plans Ahead For Father Time

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First of all, I’d like to thank all the well-wishers that have passed along your concerns about Luckey, my ailing thirteen year-old lab. Through this site, e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and even texts; several people sent many heartfelt thoughts.

Just to pass along a quick update on her condition – it’s sort of a mixed bag. On the plus side; Luckey has made miraculous progress in her walking ability. When I wrote about her this past Wednesday, I was unsure if she would ever be able to use her hind legs and be able to walk again. By the time I arrived home from work on Wednesday afternoon, she was up walking around and able to get through her dog door to get outside. It wasn’t pretty as she staggered about, but she was fairly mobile with some assistance. From that point and through the weekend, her walking has progressed tremendously to the point that she can get around completely on her own and her walking looks practically normal.

On the negative side – the tumor on her spleen is still there and is beginning to show its effects. She can’t keep solid food down, so we’ve had to shift to feeding her things like eggs, cottage cheese and yogurt; which were tips passed along by regular commenter Ron Ford from his daughter. That seems to work for now; but it is still a matter of time before “The Decision” will have to be made. But for now, she is still happy and loveable and in much better shape than she was a week ago. As long as her spirits are good and she is pain free and not miserable – we plan to keep her around.

I will continue to update any changes in her condition. This picture was taken Saturday night by the fire during our first cold snap. She enjoyed the warmth. As you can see, she is still perky and seems to still be enjoying life. We will continue to enjoy her while we can, until things change. Again – thanks for everyone’s concern.

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Anyway, I’ll now move on to a topic regarding the Verizon IndyCar Series that kind of surprised me. When it was announced that Team Penske was expanding to four cars to accommodate bringing in Simon Pagenaud, it sent many signals to me.

Never in their history dating back to the sixties, has Team Penske ever run four full-time cars in a season. I’m not even sure if they ever ran a fourth car at Indianapolis in a one-off situation, but I could be wrong on that. Before 2010, it was a rarity for Team Penske to ever run three full-time cars. The last time they did that prior to 2010 was in 1994 when they ran Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr. and Paul Tracy. That was a one-year occurrence just to make sure they could snag Little Al, who was going to be a free-agent after his contract ran out at Galles in 1993. By 1995, Tracy was at Newman/Haas and Team Penske was back to a two-car team.

It raised eyebrows when they expanded in 2010, creating a three-car team of Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. Many expected Briscoe to be the odd-man out and that they would be back to two cars in 2011. That was eventually the case, but Briscoe hung on for two more years before Team Penske finally scaled back to two full-time cars in 2013.

Eyebrows were raised again when Juan Montoya was signed for the 2014 season. Some wondered how his brash personality would mesh with the polished, buttoned-down image at Team Penske and if his presence would upset the chemistry and become a negative throughout the season. The chemistry was obviously not affected that much as the three Penske drivers placed first, second and fourth in the championship.

Now comes the biggest shock of all, at least in my meaningless opinion, as Simon Pagenaud becomes the fourth member of the Penske stable. Robin Miller predicted this would happen a couple of weeks earlier. Love him or hate him (I happen to fall in the “love him” camp) – Robin Miller usually gets it right. It sometimes takes a while for it to play out, but he usually ends up being right, as he was this time.

Personally, I never thought Pagenaud would ever leave Honda, a manufacturer he has been associated with for years. I didn’t think he would stay with Sam Schmidt, but I thought he would go to Andretti Autosport. They seemed more likely to expand their program or have him replace James Hinchcliffe, who is still unsigned. Don’t ask me why, it just seemed like a more logical fit.

I mentioned that this sent signals. I see several messages in this signing.

First, the team is justifiably shoring up their main drivers for the next several years. Helio Castroneves will turn forty before next year’s Indianapolis 500. Juan Montoya turned thirty-nine a couple of weeks ago. Both are obviously on the backside of their careers, although both are still near the top of their game – which in both of their cases is pretty high.

But Father Time has a way of sneaking up on drivers. A driver can be very productive one season and the next season be driving like they are over-the-hill. While Mario Andretti won a race at the age of fifty-three, it had been many years since he was considered a front-runner. No one, including Castroneves and Montoya, knows when they will be hanging up their helmet. It could be after next season or it could be five seasons from now – but it will happen sooner than later. Having a thirty year-old Pagenaud and a thirty-three year-old Will Power in the fold will help the passing of the torch in the next few seasons at team Penske.

But more importantly, I think this signals a changing of the guard at the top at Team Penske. Make no mistake, Roger Penske is still fully in charge at the team that bears his name. He also enjoys race strategy and all indications are he will continue to call races for Helio Castroneves next season.

But Father Time doesn’t just stalk drivers. The Captain will be seventy-eight before the start of the next season. That’s not to say he couldn’t be involved in his team for several more years, but Roger Penske always covers his bases. If health issues were to suddenly make him step aside, he knows that his racing empire is in the capable hands of Tim Cindric, who joined Team Penske following the 1999 season and was named President of Penske Racing in 2006.

More and more top level decisions are being made by Cindric. The Montoya hire was Cindric’s idea. Roger Penske eventually gave him the green light, but this was a Cindric move. All indications are it has been a good one. I’m merely speculating, but I have a strong idea that bringing Simon Pagenaud on board is a Cindric move as well. It makes since for the future, but my guess is that Roger Penske had to be sold on the idea of a four-car team. That is a total departure from The Captain’s philosophy to not spread the team too thin and put all the focus on two cars only. Looking back, moving to three cars in 2010 was probably a Cindric idea as well.

But congratulations to Simon Pagenaud. This is obviously an excellent move for him. He has performed well since joining the series and was deserving of a bigger payday than Sam Schmidt was able to give him. He has earned this shot and my bet is that he will take full advantage of it.

Bringing on Simon Pagenaud is a sign that the succession plan is well underway at Team Penske. Father Time eventually wins every race; whether it involves drivers, team owners, any of us or even our pets. It’s always good to have a plan in place. Team Penske has certainly covered its bases for the future.

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Team Penske Plans Ahead For Father Time”

  1. Mike Silver Says:

    Glad Luckey is doing better. Simon’s move to Penske is business as usual. He seems to get drivers at the top of their game. People wonder why he doesn’t have a Lights team. He let’s others do the development work.

    • That is a good point I hadn’t thought of about The Captain. A great move for Simon! And even better news for Sage Karam with Ganassi.

  2. On the one hand it is good for racing that a Roger Penske has the interest and money to participate to the extent that he does. On the other hand, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, IndyCar needs more car owners.

  3. Good for Penske. However, I thought Newgarden would have been their target because of his awesome upside and potential.

  4. On one hand more quality cars are a good thing. On the other hand, having the Big 3 control almost half the field is less good. I certainly do not want to go back to the bad old days of 09/10 when those three teams won every race. Pagenaud to Penske also seems bad for ever having Newgarden/Karam/Rossi/Daly/Hinch/Pigot at Penske. Unless Roger/Cindric keep 3-4 cars, with Power and Pagenaud the replacement drivers for Helio and JPM are already set. So…. really hope Hinch hits it off at Sam’s team and Newgarden at ECR is as good as we all hope. Also Karam looks to be getting a shot at Ganassi so that’s something…. but I feel like Pagenaud and Power will be at Penske for the forseeable future…. and beyond.

  5. I am not the Pag fan that most people are. He better learn to win on ovals fast. I think making a move for Newgarden or Hinch would have been better for Penske.

    Hinch seems to be taking a step in the wrong direction going to Schmidt. Good luck. Ganassi should look elsewhere other than Karam. All he did was win Indy Lights in a six car field. Ganassi in Indycar shouldn’t be in the business of developing kids (leave that to Toro Rosso). If he really wants a kid, sign Hawksworth. I hope he sticks with Briscoe or see if a F1 driver gets caught without a ride (Massa, Button, JEV, Magnusson…Alonso?–ha) and make an attempt at a bold move there.

    On the positive side, I am thrilled Penske got a 4th car. The big three will make up 12 or 13 cars on the grid which should make for some awesome racing. Even if one of the teams has the magic aero kit, they still have to fight off their teammates. Think Nico vs. Lewis times two.

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