Of the many names that are synonymous with success in both IndyCar Racing and NASCAR, the name Roger Penske is possibly the most dominant. As a driver himself, Penske was successful in the Sports Car Club of America (Driver of the Year in 1961) and competed in two Formula One Grand Prix races as well as NASCAR. The fact that Penske never opted to compete in the Indianapolis 500 is interesting, considering he has become the most successful car owner in the IndyCar Series and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Penske was offered a rookie test at Indy in the 1960s, but turned it down for business reasons. His spot was taken by a driver, however, who went on to have a long career in open-wheel racing as well as notorious bad luck at the Indy 500: Mario Andretti. As a team owner, Penske’s first foray into IndyCar Racing came in 1968 with driver Mark Donahue; the following year they competed in their first Indy 500.
It didn’t take long for Penske Racing to get off the ground and become a force: in 1972, Penske and Donahue won their first Indianapolis 500. As of 2010, Penske Racing has won 15 Indy 500 titles as well as 15 pole positions for the historic race. In IndyCar Racing overall, the team has 155 wins (USAC, CART and IRL combined) and 12 championships.
Rick Mears was by far the most dominant driver for Penske Racing, earning four of those 15 Indy 500 wins (1979, 1984, 1988 and 1991), as well as six of the 15 poles and three IndyCar championships. Hot on his heels though is current Penske ace Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian driver currently has three Indy 500 victories along with four poles in the race; he has yet to win a championship, however.
Penske hasn’t limited his success to IndyCar, though. The team made its NASCAR debut in 1972, again with Donahue behind the wheel, but immediate success was harder to come by; he walked away from NASCAR in 1977. In 1991, however, Penske came back to NASCAR with driver Rusty Wallace; the familiar #2 Miller-sponsored car has been a mainstay in NASCAR’s Cup Series since then, with Kurt Busch eventually replacing Wallace before Brad Keselowski took over the ride in 2011. Keselowski is the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, earning Penske Racing its first NASCAR title. Keselowski and Busch make up the current Cup Series roster for Penske Racing – driving the only Dodges full-time on the circuit – while Keselowski and former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. drive for Penske in the Nationwide Series.