Before I talk NASCAR, I've had quite a few inquiries regarding Penske's thoughts on building an IndyCar aerokit for 2012. I don't foresee Penske becoming a supplier of these kits as, based on what I know, it just wouldn't make business sense for us. We no longer have Penske Cars, which used to build our Indy cars prior to 2000, and the economics have changed to the point where we would need the help of a sponsor or a manufacturer to subsidize this type of project. We'd probably entertain the idea of doing this only if a manufacturer came forward and said, “Hey, would you help us?” But at this point, that hasn't happened. In the meetings I've been part of, the IZOD IndyCar Series has not yet made a decision regarding the criteria required to be an aero kit manufacturer. The rules for how these kits can be utilized by the teams is also still undecided as there has been some discussion about limiting how many different kits a team can purchase.
Personally, I struggle with the concept of going to the Indy 500 and finding out that there is an aero kit more suited for Indy and, because a team has committed to a certain program, that team isn't allowed to have the same chance of winning as anyone else.
In the history of Indy, these restrictions have never existed, let alone for something that only costs $70,000. This is certainly not in the spirit of Indy, in my opinion. Over the years, teams have changed cars, engine suppliers, tire suppliers and drivers through the course of May. So to tell a sponsor, a driver or the fans, “Well, we don't stand a chance this year because we have the wrong $70,000 body kit,” seems crazy to me.
Thankfully, the communication between teams and the series has continued to improve in recent months following the announcement of the 2012 car. The team owners made it clear that they wanted to have some input and, to Randy Bernard's credit, he's put things in place to open the lines of communication. Particularly in the last two months, I feel the series has taken a very good approach in terms of getting input before decisions are made.
Moving on to our NASCAR programs; The 2011 Penske Racing NASCAR lineup has also been the subject of discussion lately. The current situation is, as most of you know, Brad Keselowski will drive the Miller Lite No. 2 Dodge, Kurt Busch will drive the Shell Pennzoil-sponsored No. 22 Dodge and we're working hard to acquire sponsorship for the third car. Our first choice is to keep Sam Hornish Jr. in the Cup Series, while continuing to run two Nationwide cars. Should the third Cup car not play out, we'll look at alternatives for Sam. He knows that we would like to keep him on board in some fashion, but we also realize if something comes along that he thinks is a better opportunity, he needs to take it.
I think the same can be said for Justin Allgaier as, without Verizon's support in Nationwide, it will be hard for us to keep them both. We think a lot of Parker Kligerman, our development driver, who has had a part-time Nationwide ride with the No. 42 and No. 26 car teams this year. At Kansas, he was better than the results showed – he should have had a top-10 finish there and when you look at who he's racing against, for the limited amount of experience he has and the equipment he's run (certainly third-best in our camp), there are days when he runs as well as anyone. We feel he's getting better all the time and we see him as part of our future.
People tend to compare Parker with Justin, and you really can't compare them at this stage of their careers. Justin is an established Nationwide Series driver who deserves a ride at the Cup level or at least another full season of Nationwide, whereas Parker is still an up and coming driver. It's still very difficult to find a full-season program for drivers like that unless they bring some money as the trend in the Nationwide Series continues to be that sponsors want to go with existing Cup drivers. Earlier this year, there was some momentum on imposing rules that would restrict Cup drivers' involvement in Nationwide, but this seems to have stalled and I'm not sure much will change for 2011 on this front.
So for 2011, in Brad's case, the biggest question is whether or not he will drive the full season in the Nationwide Series. Depending on the status of the championship, I foresee him driving all of the races where Nationwide and Cup run on the same weekend (companion races) and the only real question is if he will also run the non-companion races. In the past, some said that the Nationwide cars were a distraction from the Cup cars because there was such a difference in the handling qualities between the two types. But next year, with the Nationwide Series Car of Tomorrow, there will be a lot more similarities.
I believe the Nationwide program continues to give Brad confidence as a driver, and that was very important to him as he made the transition to a full-time Cup ride. It gives him a data point for himself in terms of how he's running against other guys. I think it helps a driver's psyche to know he can run up front, while he also learns to do something different. I certainly think in the second half of the season, we've seen a few glimmers of promise for him in Cup – in particular, winning the pole at New Hampshire. We haven't yet been able to get the consistency we expected on the Cup side and I think he'd tell you the same thing, so I definitely think there's a lot more to come.
At the moment, it's all hands on deck as Kurt makes a run at the title, so Brad's No. 12 and Sam's No. 77 teams are helping wherever possible, while also building and preparing for next year. Kurt is 140 points out of first place at the moment – not at the front, not at the back and certainly still in it. The pivotal point will be after Charlotte this weekend when we're halfway through the Chase. Then we'll have a better picture of where we are, as I think we need to be within about 100 points to have a realistic shot at the championship. When you consider that Kurt swept the All-Star race and the 600 at Charlotte, it should be a good race for us. As nobody has ever won all three events in the same year, the NASCAR Hall of Fame has asked us if they could have Kurt's car, straight from Victory Lane, should we win on Saturday night. Obviously, we agreed as that would be really cool!
It works well that the IndyCar season ends in early October as my busiest time of the year is November and December. Although I miss not being in the game every weekend on the NASCAR side, I don't really influence the at-track race operations there. The next four months for me are all about running the business and putting plans in place for the future. Hopefully, that also includes taking some time to celebrate a few more victories along the way!
Thanks for reading.