DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – When his cars crossed the finish line today at Daytona International Speedway, Roger Penske climbed down from the timing stand, hardly the worse for wear.
Not bad, considering he’d been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours.
Penske, 80, vowed before the Rolex 24 At Daytona to make it through the entire 24-hour race, a feat people decades younger can’t accomplish. He made it, just as spry as he was when he made the promise Saturday to be with his team throughout the race.
“I love coming to these types of races,” Penske said. “The last thing I want to do is sit in a hotel room and watch the race and not be able to be here and see what’s happening. … I had no issue all day and all night, to be honest with you.”
Even his drivers – who slept when they could – were inspired by the boss’ endurance.
“I was very impressed when I saw he didn’t sleep,” said Simon Pagenaud, who won the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship for Team Penske and crossed over to drive in the Rolex 24 this year. “I couldn’t do it. I had some sleep. I feel fresh compared to him. It’s pretty impressive.”
Despite the up-all-night effort, the return of Penske’s team to sports car racing didn’t go as well as planned. After starting second and showing pace through most of the race, the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 shared by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Verizon IndyCar Series regular with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Graham Rahal, and Ricky Taylor was involved in a pre-dawn altercation.
The time needed to repair the car wiped out any chance it had to win the race, but it returned to the track and finished ninth. The other Penske entry, the No. 6 shared by Pagenaud, two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron, finished 10th.
“We made a lot of progress,” Penske said. “The pit stops got better and better. The whole thing was terrific. … We were right there. We would’ve given these guys a run for their money.”
Penske and Team Penske president Tim Cindric, 49, stayed on the stand throughout the race, calling stops and strategy for both cars. It marked the start of the first full season in sports car racing for Team Penske since 2009; his legacy includes a record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories, 12 Indy car championships and one NASCAR Cup series title.
As the team’s crew began to move the cars to the paddock and break down equipment in the pits after the race ended, Penske’s endurance was the topic of conversation.
“If he was able to give away his secrets, everyone would be as successful as him,” Pagenaud joked. “It’s incredible. He’s so passionate about the sport and his teams. He catches everything. He’s always looking at what’s happening on the track. He’s connected to the team. He loves this. He calls it his fishing.”
Penske will field three full-season cars in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series for Pagenaud, reigning series champ Josef Newgarden and 2014 titlist Will Power. He’ll add a fourth entry for Castroneves in the two May races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 12 (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil (11 a.m. ET, ABC).