There's a strong case to be made for Justin Wilson because… well, because he's one of IndyCar's super talents who's proven he can shine on all types of track. But his availability is slightly questionable because he's been making noises about his long-term commitment to turning Dale Coyne Racing into a regular winner. Mind you, the fact that few doubt his ability to do that says a lot about his quality, so there should be no doubt that Penske and Wilson would do great things for each other. That's why Wilson was on Penske's shortlist four years ago.
One man whose demeanor has “Penske” written all over it is JR Hildebrand. A fine ambassador for anyone he represents, possessing great car control, a very studious approach to racing, and a readiness to learn at every opportunity, JR has had a bit of a slow-burn in IndyCar so far. But this is just his second year and he's only had a teammate to pool information with for the past eight races. And whatever anyone may try and tell you, the relationship between Panther Racing and its partners at Dreyer & Reinbold could never be as strong or as transparent as that between the three Team Penske drivers. Hildebrand would learn swiftly alongside Castroneves and Power and with one of the very best cars at his disposal, he'd have the conviction to become a truly formidable driver.
Hildebrand's current teammate, Oriol Servia, is another who appears as strong as ever, and possesses one of the brightest engineering brains of any driver in the IndyCar paddock. He has worked well with Power in the past and they remain firm friends, he is excellent at fan/media/sponsor interaction, and he remains one of the real gritty racers who never seems to give up or flake. And he never throws his team under the bus, either. He puts up, shuts up and mans up.
A lot of people have thrown Josef Newgarden's name into the ring as a driver who Penske should sign. But it's surely not going to happen yet. RP has traditionally shown little interest in grooming drivers so soon after their graduation from the junior ranks, and though Newgarden has a Brad Keselowski-like swagger about him – something that clearly appeals to Roger – BK has the results to back that up because he's matured so quickly in the past couple of seasons of NASCAR Sprint Cup. Newgarden will be on Penske's radar, but The Captain will want to see how he develops over the next two or three years. Right now, the 21-year-old needs race results that match the fine promise he keeps showing in qualifying.
OK, this final one's a little “out there,” but it shouldn't be. Simona de Silvestro is a driver of considerable talent and great application who wins over everyone she deals with, be it media, sponsors or fans. And yet somehow she sidesteps all the nonsense that goes with being a racecar driver, a female racecar driver and a female racecar driver who everyone sympathizes with because she catches fire or because she has a lame engine. She just keeps her head down and drives hard. And that sounds like someone who would fit into a Penske environment.
And so Roger Penske is in an enviable position: he has an array of excellent drivers available to him if he wishes to continue running a third car. But that is one big “If” that involves extra expenses and must take great consideration every year. The other “if” surrounds the No. 2 car's current incumbent. If The Captain thinks Ryan Briscoe can rediscover the form that put him in title contention three years ago, or has a lateral move planned for him, then he'll surely keep him on the books. But in IndyCar terms, for the past three years, we've only seen fleeting glimpses of Briscoe at his best and, for what its worth, I'm convinced that for both team and driver to reach their full potential, they need to go their separate ways.
David Malsher is the editor of RACER magazine