“This hasn’t been our main focus. Many of the teams running in NASCAR haven’t had the responsibility of the IndyCar side, too,” Penske said. “We’ve run the Porsche cars and the long-distance racing. But I think our focus today, we’ve emerged as a competitor. We’ve been good in the past, but we’ve never been able to close the deal. Hopefully that will be a different case this year.”
It can be traced to Keselowski, who demands more of Penske’s time and energy simply by being himself. He’s relentless in his passion and enthusiasm for winning and wanting to turn Penske Racing into an elite NASCAR organization, and he presented Penske with a list of things he and crew chief Paul Wolfe believed were needed for the team to be better.
“They provide me with a list of the things that they feel we can make the team better and the car better, to the point Brad thought we should upgrade our fitness center,” Penske said. “Nothing to do with racing, but the team, human capital.”
“To win a championship for Roger would certainly be a huge accomplishment considering everything he’s been through in American motorsports and beyond,” Keselowski said. “You look at his legacy in the sport and you can’t help but feel that he’s been a little bit slighted on the NASCAR side. We’d like to get that job done, and I think we have the opportunity to do it.”
Those who have been with Penske from the beginning see similarities in the relationship between owner and driver to the one Penske had with Rick Mears, the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and current Penske driver coach and consultant.
“Roger was so impressed with Rick as a person starting from the very beginning, they just clicked,” said Dan Luginbuhl, Penske’s vice president, emeritus. “You need people that are dedicated, that are 110 percent all-in. Rick Mears was one of those people, and I suspect Brad Keselowski is one of those people.”
Penske is one of those people. His motto for all of his companies is “effort equals results,” and it’s not lip service, either. The race track is his weekend golf game, and figuring out how to get to Victory Lane is his recreation.
“Nobody is working harder throughout the company than my father and people see that,” son Greg Penske said. “I think the culture he has set of doing things only one way, and that’s the right way, that’s how we operate our businesses. People see that and they understand when they wear our logo and wear the Penske brand, it means quality and it means performance. He’s built that, and when people see him work hard, it makes you want to work hard.
“That’s been instilled in all of his children and all of his employees: You work hard to get ahead. That’s the message he teaches.”
Now all the hard work, all the effort put into 1,396 entries dating to 1972, will be rewarded Sunday barring some bizarre setback. It can happen, though, and it did two months ago to Power at Fontana. But should the “Blue Deuce” team follow the Penske plan and fill that void on the impressive Penske resume, the team owner won’t want his employees thinking it’s about him.
“Sure, it will be wonderful for him, but it will be more of a statement about the building of an organization,” Czarnecki said. “Roger gets as much enjoyment out of seeing the people who contributed enjoy the fruits of what they’ve done. It’s not about him. His success is built on his humanity. Roger doesn’t hold himself up over anyone else in the organization.”
“He respects people, whether it’s the guy sweeping the floor or the bank president. He’s able to extract performance from people that way.”