Brad Keselowski broke into a huge smile in the Charlotte Motor Speedway Infield Media Center after winning Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the venerable North Carolina track.
“You know, you’ve got three shots at winning races this weekend for Roger (Penske, team owner) and Penske Racing,” said Keselowski. “We’re one for one, so that’s good. ... One way or another, the checkered flag at Penske Racing is going to fly this week, and that’s great for the guys.”
But as Keselowski and every Penske employee knows, what happened on Saturday was only a warm-up for today, when the man known as “The Captain” will go for his record 16th Indianapolis 500 and only his second Coca-Cola 600 victory.
Penske Racing has a solid chance to win one or both of the races.
At the Brickyard, Penske driver Ryan Briscoe will start on the pole. His teammates are close to the front, too: IZOD IndyCar series points leader Will Power starts fifth, one position ahead of three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves.
On the NASCAR side, things aren’t quite as good, but Penske Racing certainly isn’t in bad shape. Qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 was disappointing, with Keselowski starting 24th and teammate AJ Allmendinger 11th. But in Saturday’s final Happy Hour practice, Keselowski was fastest and Allmendinger eighth.
And last weekend at Charlotte, Keselowski finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the Sprint All-Star Race, so he’s very much in the hunt.
“It’s going to be tough to run with the 48 (Johnson) and those guys,” said Keselowski. “It always is. Anything can always go against you in a 600-mile race but all you can hope for is to have speed and for things to go your way. You can control some of the latter and all of the first. So we’ve got what I feel like is a great shot ... and hopefully, over in Indy, they’ll be able to pull it off.”
Make no mistake about it, winning is still a huge priority for Penske.
Now 75, the Shaker Heights, Ohio, native has 163 race victories and 12 championships in IndyCar, both series records, as are his 15 Indy victories. Penske also has 73 Sprint Cup race victories.
“If Penske racing has a win, as far as I'm concerned, that has an umbrella effect for every one of our people” said Penske. “From the shop people to the truck drivers to the pit crews and the crew chiefs and the chief mechanics.”
“He wants to win,” Keselowski said of Penske. “It’s good. Like I said, I feel very lucky to have an owner that engaged.”
Penske president Tim Cindric said moving the IndyCar operation to Penske’s NASCAR shop in Mooresville, N.C., in 2007 has paid dividends for both operations.
“I think over time we've been able to take the best of both worlds," Cindric said. “I think we've been able to take the good out of both, and you couldn't do that unless they were in the same building. So we are starting to see more of the payback.”
Briscoe, the Indy polesitter, said Penske Racing wants to double up on Sunday and believes they have the talent to accomplish it and bring Penske another milestone. “We're definitely excited,” Briscoe said. “It would mean so much to win two races in one day for Roger.”
Keselowski would like to deliver again today for his boss.
“Well, I mean, the month of May is certainly a big month for Penske Racing,” said Keselowski. “Obviously, they’re having a lot of success over there at the Brickyard, and that’s great to see and really important for Roger but we want to have a lot of success over here, too. ... I know how much it would mean to Roger to be able to pull that off.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.