To understand how much I love the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you just have to know one thing — my cat's name is Indy. But legendary team owner Roger Penske has me beat. The license plate on his car reads: "Won Indy 14."
To understand how much I love the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you just have to know one thing — my cat's name is Indy.
But legendary team owner Roger Penske has me beat.
The license plate on his car reads: "Won Indy 14."
Should any of his three drivers win the race in two weeks, he'll have to get a new one — and you can bet that he will.
"Each one is special," Penske said earlier this week. "It's an amazing thing, the fact that we won last year or a couple of years ago, it doesn't really make any difference other than the fact we have the experience. Nobody gives us an extra lap. In fact, people expect more, sponsors expect more, so there's pressure on us."
The pressure is increased on the two weekends leading up to the 500.
Any driver who has ever attempted it — including six-time pole winner Rick Mears — says the four laps of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 are the most pressure-packed of any in their career.
And if weather conditions are an issue, as they were Saturday with the wind, it's even worse. The first 11 cars were locked in Saturday. The next 11 will be filled Sunday.
Then next weekend, the final 11 spots will be filled, followed by nail-biting, gut-wrenching bumping and last-gasp attempts to make the 500.
The Penske cars won't have to worry about that.
"We're here to run the race," Penske said. "If you can start up in the first two or three or four rows, if you go back and look at the statistics, the winner comes out of that area."
Another subject Penske addressed briefly was his rumored attempt to purchase the Saturn car division from General Motors.
"Saturn obviously is one of the divisions which General Motors is either going to sell or close down, and we have a distribution experience bringing the Smart Car into the United States," he said. "At this particular time, we've made no offer to GM, we're in a due diligence stage, and it's a very short time frame. So at the moment, lots of things have to play out before we'd make a formal bid.
"So I think the publicity is way ahead of the process."
Pieces in place
Mark Martin announced earlier this week that he will run a full schedule next year.
He said Friday that was the scenario team owner Rick Hendrick wanted all along, but Martin had to be sure of three things: He wanted to know that he and crew chief Alan Gustafson would get along and he wanted the race team to want him to be in the car for the full schedule next year.
"Lastly and very importantly, I wanted to make sure that I could do it," he said. "I have enormous respect for Alan and for the guys on this race team and certainly did not want to feel like that I couldn't do the job even if they wanted me there. I wanted to make sure I could do the job."
With those criteria obviously satisfied, the decision was made.
"Now we can just go out and have fun," Martin said.
Fit and healthy
Any discussion about Martin and his ability to drive competitively at his age (50) comes back to his intense fitness regimen.
Former teammate Jeff Burton has noticed more drivers paying attention to physical fitness and healthy eating.
"You see a lot of drivers having food brought to them now," he said. "It used to be that you'd just run over to the grill in front of the hauler and eat whatever they were cooking. So there's just much more of a commitment to it and (there) should be. We're paid like professional athletes and we ought to act like them."
Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.