Notes from a Close Encounter of the Red Car kind

Photo: Penske Racing PR

Getting ready to take part in my first Team Penske - or "red car" as TJ called  it - teleconference call on Friday, I approached my speakerphone with trepidation.

  • What if my dog started howling in the background and ticked Helio Castroneves off? Or I suddenly started belting out "The Authority Song"?
  • What if the folks on the other end could secretly see the Scott Dixon Hot Wheels car sitting on my desk? (Ed: or for that matter, the big ol' NASCAR flag behind your desk?)
  • What about if they could look through my internet connection and see me, looking anything but svelte and professional in my sweatpants and vintage STP T-shirt?

Could they do that? This was, after all, the "Death Star" we're talking about, right?

No such worries, though, as the stakes were pretty low - it was just a rehash of yesterday's Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship deal for Castroneves for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and - on top of that - Helio couldn't make it because of some vaguely described "travel problems" getting back from the livery unveiling in Vegas.

That left just Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing and also race strategist for Castroneves to handle the teleconference. Cindric started by apologizing for Castroneves' absence, joking: "I'm used to picking up Helio's slack." Then he discussed the Shell/Pennzoil deal, adding: "We're excited to have that association, that relationship ... anytime you bring on a sponsor like the whole Shell/Pennzoil brand, it brings momentum to a team ..."

Cindric added having Castroneves become "another four-time winner" of the Indianapolis 500 while driving in Shell/Pennzoil livery would be exciting, "especially at the Centennial" running of the race.

Other notes

Second just isn't good enough: Cindric was asked what Team Penske plans to do next season to improve upon a very successful 2010. In reply, he acknowledged the team's poles and race wins were indicators of success, but not winning the championship or Indy 500 were areas they obviously were unhappy about.

Adding the third car for Will Power, and having that team and driver compete for the title was something Cindric and Team Penske was proud of.

But, Cindric said by adding a third car they took a hit in pit proficiency: "We took two A teams and made them into three B teams. We're working at it so that next season we have three A teams in the pits."

Sponsorship update: Cindric had no details on any sponsors for Castroneves beyond the Shell/Pennzoil deal for the 500. He said: "Stay tuned for primary" sponsors for both Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. He did say he expected Team Penske would have all three cars on the track for every race in 2011.

Sam Hornish rumors: Asked about the rumors swirling around Twitter that three-time IndyCar champ, 2006 Indy 500 winner and current NASCAR journeyman Sam Hornish Jr. may race for Team Penske in the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Cindric said the door to return to IndyCar has always been open to Hornish, but "he's not done with NASCAR."

Cindric said the 500 is a special race to Hornish, and "if he wants to do it, we'll find a way to run a fourth car."

Belle Isle, Belle Isle: Asked if he thought the return of Chevrolet as an engine manufacturer in 2012 meant IndyCar should return to the automaker's home and race at Belle Isle again, Cindric said "Obviously my boss (Roger Penske) has a passion for that" but the decision would be more influenced by whether a race could be supported by the city of Detroit and its partners.

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